Posts tagged ‘Sam Larner’

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

August 11, 2012

Week 51 – Raking the Hay

In the Spring of 1980 my friends Ian and Jane put on an excellent series of folk concerts in Oxford: Nic Jones with support from Crows; June Tabor and Martin Simpson; Martin Carthy and John Kirkpatrick. The latter were in fact joined by trumpeter Howard Evans, and when I saw them the following year at the Lewes Folk Day, they were billed as Carthy, Kirkpatrick & Evans. I can’t remember if they sang this song in Oxford, but they certainly did in Lewes, and I was very taken with it. I learned the song shortly afterwards, when I found the words and music in Roy Palmer’s Everyman’s Book of English Country Songs. And not long after that I first heard the original source, Sam Larner, on the Topic LP A Garland for Sam.

A live recording of Martin and John singing the piece – unaccompanied, in unison – was included on the 4-CD box set, The Carthy Chronicles.

I had the pleasure of singing this yesterday during an all-too-brief visit to the lunchtime session at The Volunteer in Sidmouth.

Raking the Hay

August 5, 2012

Week 50 – In Scarborough Fair Town

Blue plaque on the wall of Sam Larner’s cottage in Bulmer Lane, Winterton (from the Winterton-on-Sea website)

Blue plaque on the wall of Sam Larner’s cottage in Bulmer Lane, Winterton (from the Winterton-on-Sea website)

You can’t go far wrong with a “drowned lover” song, and this is a particularly fine example. From the great Sam Larner of Winterton in Norfolk. There are slightly different recorded versions on The Voice of the People Volume 2 and Now is the Time for Fishing (also on Topic).

In Scarborough Fair Town

June 5, 2012

Week 41 – The Wild Rover

The version of this song popularised by The Dubliners, with it’s “Nay Nay Never” (clap – clap – clap) chorus, is probably the most widely known British folk song.  Which was always reason enough for me not to feel any inclination to learn it. I was aware that there were other versions out there – Dave Townsend has a nice Hampshire version, while the Scottish singer Sylvia Barnes recorded a wonderful version with the band Kentigern (well it’s certainly wonderful when she sings it).

Sam Larner

Sam Larner (image from

But I was only inspired to learn the song when I heard it sung by Norfolk fisherman Sam Larner, on the Topic CD reissue of the 1961 LP Now Is The Time For Fishing.

Sam’s tune is very closely related to that commonly used for ‘The Blackbird’ and it seemed to me quite different from the usual version. However Brian Peters, on the TradSong forum, has presented a very credible argument that in fact, just as The Dubliners got ‘Black Velvet Band’ from Norfolk singer Harry Cox (via Ewan MacColl) Sam Larner’s version may well have been  the source of  their ‘Wild Rover’. The Dubliners are thought to have learned it from Louis Killen, and it seems likely that he got it from Ewan MacColl, who had recorded the song from Larner in the late 1950s. Brian writes

The MacColl / Dubliners melody sounds to me precisely the kind of thing you’d expect, if the Larner melody had been tweaked to turn it into something subtly different – I’ve done that kind of thing myself and know the tricks, and I understand that MaColl had form on that score. The changes (a slight narrowing of range, a more frequent resolution on the tonic, for instance) serve to make the tune simultaneously less interesting musically, and more accessible.

Whatever the truth, The Dubliners produced a popular classic, and I prefer the way Sam Larner sang it!

The Wild Rover