Posts tagged ‘Sailors’

May 17, 2020

Week 289 – The Ghost Ship

As I’ve probably mentioned before, I have rather an ambivalent attitude towards Peter Bellamy’s singing. But I can’t deny that hearing his album The Fox Jumps Over The Parson’s Gate at the age of 17 or 18 had quite an effect on me. I learned several songs from the LP – certainly ‘The Female Drummer’ and ‘Saint Stephen’. And at a time when my singing style was heavily influenced by those I heard on record (Martin Carthy, Mike Waterson, Tim Hart, Cathal McConnell) I couldn’t help picking up some of Bellamy’s vocal tricks too. I learned this one with the aid of Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger’s The Singing Island – an important book for me, as it was one of the few books of folk song in my local library.

It was quite a few years later before I heard the song sung by Bellamy’s source, the Norfolk fisherman Sam Larner. That was on the Topic CD Now Is The Time For Fishing, which features recordings made by MacColl and Seeger between 1958 and 1960. It’s a great record, fully deserving of its classic status. But in fact you can get all of the 1958-60 recordings of Sam Larner made by Ewan MacColl, Peggy Seeger and Charles Parker on the award-winning Musical Traditions double CD Cruising Round Yarmouth. If you root around on the Musical Traditions website you’ll find a Downloads page, where you can buy a copy for the price of a pint (actually less than the cost of a pint, if you’re used to London and SE England prices – and anyway, all the pubs are shut at the moment).

I’m very clear that I learned this from Peter Bellamy, not Sam Larner. Indeed there are certain points in the song where – although I’ve probably not listened to Bellamy’s recording of the song more than half a dozen times in the last 30 years – I feel I have to consciously restrain myself, to stop myself throwing in a Bellamyesque yelp. But having just listened to my recording alongside that on The Fox Jumps Over The Parson’s Gate I think I might finally have arrived at my own way of singing the song.

The Ghost Ship

April 18, 2020

Week 288 – Our Captain Cried

This blog started less than 9 years ago, but the wealth of resources that has become available in that time to folk singers and researchers is quite staggering. The EFDSS Archive Catalogue aka Full English was launched in 2013 and continues to grow both in terms of the number of collections included, and the number of records with some kind of media attached. New collections added over the course of the last couple of years include the James Madison Carpenter collection, which has sound recordings made at a time when hardly anyone else in England was making them – and which was previously inaccessible to anyone not able to go on a research trip to Washington DC – and Ken Stubbs’ 1960s recordings from Southern England. Meanwhile, more and more catalogue records now include an image, for instance a scan of the relevant page from an old Folk Song Society Journal. The catalogue record for this song is a case in point.

The one regret I have – and in truth it could easily be remedied – is that I no longer need to go up to London on a regular basis to visit the library. In the old days I’d find an excuse to go about once a year, often coinciding with a Library Lecture, or some other event at the House. Sometimes I’d be looking for something specific: songs from Kent or Oxfordshire, or folk carols. But latterly I’d let serendipity be my friend and just flip through the pages of a bound volume of Cecil Sharp’s Folk Tunes. If I saw something that piqued my interest, I’d copy the tune into a manuscript book, or take a photocopy, then look up the words in the relevant volume of Sharps’ Folk Words. Sometimes there was no entry – Sharp had only noted the first verse – or the words were incomplete, so then I’d consult the catalogue and find other versions. And then, naturally, one thing would often lead to another.

This approach yielded such songs as , , , and the version of ‘Rout of the Blues’ that Sophie Thurman sings on Three Quarter Time. It was actually that song which led me to ‘Our Captain Cried’. I knew ‘Rout’, of course, from the Dransfields’ LP of the same name, but had never really considered that the song might have been found in the oral tradition. Having found a couple of versions collected by Sharp, I then looked for other versions, and found one from Mr Henry Hills of Lodsworth, in an old Journal. It’s one of a considerable number of Sussex songs contained in ‘Songs from the Collection of W. P. Merrick’, Journal of the Folk-Song Society, Vol. 1, No. 3 (1901), pp. 66-138. I quickly decided that Mr Hill’s ‘The Blues’ wasn’t very interesting, but a few pages further on I found this – and if nothing else, I’m sure I was drawn in by the fact that the song is written out in 4/4 but with frequent shifts into 5/4. You could actually bar it in 13/4, which is not a time signature you expect to find too often in the English tradition (although, as Martin Carthy has been known to say, English folk songs are all basically one beat to the bar).

Our Captain Cried, from JFSS Vol 1 No3; from the VWML Archive Catalogue

Our Captain Cried, from JFSS Vol 1 No3; from the VWML Archive Catalogue

The tune, you’ll quickly realise, is a member of the ‘Monk’s Gate’ / ‘Who would true valour see’ family of tunes – Vaughan Williams having based that hymn tune on one he collected (as ‘Our Captain Calls’) from Mrs Harriet Verrall, 20-odd miles away from Henry Hill’s home in Lodsworth.

For another similar version – very nicely sung by George Sansome, and with a wonderful anglo-concertina accompaniment by Cohen Braithwaite-Kilcoyne – check out the CD Wheels Of The World by Granny’s Attic.

Our Captain Cried

Andy Turner: vocal, C/G anglo-concertina

April 19, 2019

Week 282 – Seamen Bold

There’s a very well-known version of this song – usually known as ‘The Ship in Distress’ – set to a suitably dramatic minor key tune. The fine tune came from a Mr Harwood, of Watersfield near Pulborough, and was one of four versions collected in Sussex by George Butterworth. It’s in the The Penguin Book of English Folk Songs and Martin Carthy recorded it, with a typically atmospheric fiddle accompaniment from Dave Swarbrick, on the LP But Two Came By. I was familiar with both of those sources, I think, by my late teens. So when I came across another Sussex version (the song never seems to have been collected in any other county) in Bob Copper’s book A Song for Every Season, I was intrigued by the fact that this macabre tale was set to quite a jaunty major key tune – it’s pretty much exactly the same as the “normal” tune, but transposed from minor to major. Since noone else seemed to be singing this version I determined to learn it myself. And, some 40 years later, it’s finally happened.

You can hear Bob Copper singing ‘Seamen Bold’ on the Leader box set, A Song for Every Season (assuming you’re lucky enough to have access to this long deleted classic). He revisited the song  in 1998 on the CD Coppersongs 3, which is one of the few Copper Family recordings I don’t seem to have in my collection. More recently, an older recording became available on the Topic 3-CD set Good People, Take Warning – sung by Bob’s father Jim Copper in 1951.

 

Seamen Bold, noted from Jim Copper by Francis Collinson. From the VWML Archive.

Seamen Bold, noted from Jim Copper by Francis Collinson. From the VWML Archive.

If you’re interested in learning more about songs of cannibalism (or cannibalism narrowly averted) in the tradition, check out Paul Cowdell’s article Cannibal Ballads: Not Just a Question of Taste in the Folk Music Journal Vol. 9, No. 5 (2010).

 

Seamen Bold

April 23, 2017

Week 267 – The Grey Funnel Line

I have two Cyril Tawney songs in my repertoire. I posted ‘Sally Free and Easy’ almost a year ago; now here’s the other one.

Written in 1959, it was the last song Cyril Tawney wrote before leaving the Royal Navy. You’ll find his own account of its composition at https://mainlynorfolk.info/cyril.tawney/songs/thegreyfunnelline.html.

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.

The Grey Funnel Line

July 15, 2016

Week 256 – Baltimore

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.

Baltimore

May 21, 2016

Week 248 – Sally Free and Easy

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.

Sally Free and Easy

April 24, 2016

Week 244 – Fare thee well dearest Nancy

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.

The sailor’s adieu. Broadside printed by J Pitts of Seven Dials, between 1819 and 1844. From Broadside Ballads Online.

Fare thee well dearest Nancy

April 1, 2016

Week 241 – Do Me Ama

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.

Do Me Ama

March 12, 2016

Week 238 – The Faithful Sailor Boy

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.

 

Blackberry Fold - Topic LP sleeve (from the Mainly Norfolk website)

Blackberry Fold – Topic LP sleeve (from the Mainly Norfolk website)

Although I learned this from the Topic LP Blackberry Fold I 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.

The Faithful Sailor Boy

January 9, 2016

Week 229 – Once I Courted a Damsel

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.

Liner notes to Martin Carthy and Dave Swarbrick, Skin and Bone, from https://mainlynorfolk.info/martin.carthy/songs/icourtedadamsel.html

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

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

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.

The beauty bright – broadside printed for W. Armstrong, Banastre-street, Liverpool, between 1820 and 1824. From the Bodleian collection.

Once I Courted a Damsel

Andy Turner – vocal, C/G anglo-concertina