Posts tagged ‘sea songs’

March 13, 2015

Week 186 – The Bold Princess Royal

I’m a fool. Having recorded a song which begins “On the fourteenth of February” I then completely forgot to post it on 14th February. So, one month late, here it is.

My tune comes from the Butterworth MSS, but was actually collected in September 1910 – at Minster, on the Isle of Sheppey in Kent – by his friend and associate Francis Jekyll, nephew of the famous gardener Gertrude Jekyll (the family surname, I believe, rhymes with “treacle” rather than “heckle”).

As was common practice at the time, Jekyll appears to have noted the tune but not the words. And, as always in these circumstances,  my first port of call for a singable set of words was the Copper Family songbook. In truth, words for this song don’t vary that much from singer to singer; although in retrospect I do wish I’d shopped around a bit, and managed to provide the pirate with a loud-speaking trumpet (as in Sam Larner’s version and the printed ballad sheet shown below).

I can forgive the collector for not writing down the words of the song. But rather less forgivable is the fact that he failed to record the singer’s name. That’s pretty poor in any circumstances, but somehow it seems worse given that the singer was an inhabitant of the Minster Union (Workhouse). Almost certainly going into the workhouse was a source of shame and indignity for the singer. And, because an Eton-educated folk song collector couldn’t be bothered to find out his name, he (I assume it was a him, ‘Bold Princess Royal’ seems like the sort of song which would have been sung mainly by men) is robbed even of claiming a place as a minor footnote in history. It’s really not good enough.

I must thank George Frampton for originally drawing this song to my attention – and the others which Jekyll collected on Sheppey – some years before they became more readily available via the Take Six, and now the Full English archive.

The bold Princess Royal, Such broadside from Ballads Online.

The bold Princess Royal, Such broadside from Ballads Online.

The Bold Princess Royal

Andy Turner – vocal, C/G anglo-concertina

September 6, 2014

Week 159 – Canadee-i-o

Those of you who sometimes find life imitating High Fidelity may have been asked to list your top five opening tracks on albums. My list would certainly include ‘I saw her standing there’ and ‘Country Home’ (Neil Young & Crazy Horse, Ragged Glory). Perhaps ‘The Kesh Jig’ etc. (The Bothy Band, The Bothy Band) and ‘Shirley’ (Billy Bragg, Talking with the Taxman about Poetry). And definitely ‘Canadee-i-o’, the opening track on Nic Jones’ timeless classic Penguin Eggs. I first heard Nic play the song at a concert in Hertford College, Oxford in early 1980. Penguin Eggs was released later that year and of course I, like many others, played it over and over.

It was probably just a little bit later than that when I acquired a copy of the Topic LP Sussex Harvest, on which the opening track, funnily enough, is ‘Canadee-i-o’ – sung by Harry Upton from Balcombe, West Sussex, recorded by Mike Yates. I fairly soon decided to learn Harry Upton’s version, although it was probably some years later before I ever sung it in public – I always felt that the song wanted an accompaniment, but it took me a long time to work one out. In fact the accompaniment I play now has had several iterations over the years. I remember that I was always vaguely dissatisfied with it, but having recently come back to the song for the first time in about five years I’m much happier with it. So either I’ve got better at playing it, or I’ve improved it somehow, or my quality threshold has gone down.

On the excellent BBC Four documentary  The Enigma of Nic Jones – Return of Britain’s Lost Folk Hero there were several sequences where Harry Upton’s ‘Canadee-i-o’ could be heard, behind film of the old blue-label Topic LP being played. I’m not sure if this was meant to suggest that Nic Jones learned the song from a recording of Harry Upton. If so, it’s further evidence, if any were needed, of Nic’s wonderful creative ability, as his wonderful rendition bears only a passing resemblance to the song as recorded from Harry Upton.

Mike Yates’s 1970s recording of Harry Upton singing ‘Canadee-i-o’ can now be found on the Musical Traditions CD Up in the North and Down in the South. Mike’s notes tell us that Harry, a retired cowman, had learned ‘Canadee-i-o’ from his father, a Downsland shepherd. Apparently he and his father would sometimes sing together in harmony. It is also interesting to note that “like the Copper Family, Harry had many of his songs in manuscript form, often in his father’s handwriting, and had owned a collection of broadsides, mainly printed in the 1880s by the daughter of Henry Parker Such, of the Borough in south London.  Bought originally in Brighton, these had also been inherited from his parents”.

The Roud Index shows that this song was popular on broadsides, and has been collected throughout the British Isles. Had I not already had a version of the song in my repertoire I might well have been tempted to learn the version collected by Francis Collinson from Mr Newport of Boughton Aluph,  a village just outside my home town of Ashford in Kent. Perhaps some seafaring, folksong-singing Kentish resident who follows this blog might like to give it a go? If it helps, there’s a transcription of the tune and words on Folkopedia.

 

The lady's trip to Kennady, 19th century broadside ballad from the Bodleian Collection.

The lady’s trip to Kennady, 19th century broadside ballad from the Bodleian Collection.

 

Canadee-i-o

Andy Turner: vocal, C?G anglo-concertina

January 19, 2014

Week 126 – Fare Thee Well, My Dearest Dear

I first heard this song on the album Amaranth. This was the 1970s reissue of Shirley and Dolly Collins’ Anthems in Eden suite, where the suite itself was paired with new recordings featuring what one might loosely describe as the Albion Dance Band. The arrangement on this track was greatly enhanced by the presence of a sackbut quartet (for 10 points:  which other Albion track from the early seventies featured four sackbuts?). I actually learned the song from the Penguin Book of English Folk Songs where I found that, as taken down by Ralph Vaughan Williams from Harriett Verrall in 1904, the song had a rather more unpredictable rhythm than when rendered by Ashley and the boys. I think I was always aware that I hadn’t quite learned it “right”. Checking back now with the book  I can see that my interpretation of the tune owes at least as much to the way Shirley sings it, as to the way it was collected from Mrs Verrall.

I remember hearing Tony Rose sing this song on Radio 2’s folk show Folkweave back in the late seventies or early eighties. He said that, as a young singer, he had gained a reputation for being very knowledgeable about the songs he sang. Little did people realise, he confided, that all he was doing was regurgitating the notes from the back of the Penguin Book of English Folk Songs. So imagine his horror when he turned to the back of the book and found that, inexplicably, the editors had failed to provide any notes for this song. With its republication as Classic English Folk Songs, this error has of course been redressed. Malcolm Douglas’ notes to the new book tell us that

  • this appears to be one of those songs which have only been collected from a single traditional source (the Roud Index has ‘Over the Mountain’, collected by Gardiner in Hampshire, sharing the same Roud number, but comparing the three verses of that song, I’m not convinced)
  • it is descended from a late seventeenth century broadside, ‘The Two Faithful Lovers’
  • the tune prescribed for the words on one seventeenth century broadside at least was ‘Franklin is Fled Away’, from which Harriett Verrall’s tune appears to be descended – see (and indeed, listen) for yourself at abcnotation.com

Incidentally, I can only find Mrs Verrall’s tune and first verse in the Full English archive, although six verses are given by RVW in the 1906 Journal of the Folk-Song Society.

Fare thee well my dearest dear, noted by Vaughan Williams from Harriett Verrall, Horsham, Sussex, 22 Dec 1904; image copyright EFDSS.

Fare thee well my dearest dear, noted by Vaughan Williams from Harriett Verrall, Horsham, Sussex, 22 Dec 1904; image copyright EFDSS.

The two faithful lovers. Broadside printed in London, between 1663 and 1674, from the Douce Ballads. Image copyright the Bodleian Library.

The two faithful lovers. Broadside printed in London, between 1663 and 1674, from the Douce Ballads. Image copyright the Bodleian Library.

Fare Thee Well, My Dearest Dear

Andy Turner: vocals, G/D  anglo-concertina

October 20, 2013

Week 113 – On Board a Ninety-Eight

The visitor to Oxford is of course immediately struck by the beauty of the honey-coloured stone of the medieval colleges, the Old Bod, the Radcliffe Camera, the Sheldonian… But another of the glories of Oxford to my mind has always been the Covered Market. And when I was a student one of the glories of the Covered Market was, without doubt, Garon Records. I spent many a happy hour browsing through the racks of second-hand LPs, and there are quite a number of records in my collection which I picked up in that shop. I’d actually discovered the shop even before I became a student, having come across it on a visit to Oxford a few months earlier. It’s funny what one remembers after 35 years. I can’t remember much about my visit to the college, but I do remember having something to eat and a couple of pints of Morrells in The Grapes. then sitting on the grass by the canal reading E.H. Carr’s What is History?  And while, sadly, I cannot recall Professor Carr’s answer to that vexed question, I’m pretty sure the two LPs I bought in Garon Records that day were The Watersons and Among the many attractions at the fair will be a really high class band.

Generally the records I bought from Garon were in pretty good nick, the exception being a dreadfully beat up copy of Peter Bellamy’s Tell it like it was. This was in such a bad state that I think I only played it a couple of times. But that was sufficient to introduce me to two Bellamy classics, ‘Courting too slow’ and ‘On Board a 98′. Bellamy wrote his own tune for both of these, finding the tune which Vaughan Williams had collected for this song “unimpressing”. I was surprised, therefore, when I found the tune in Sharp’s English County Folk Songs, that it was a perfectly acceptable tune which fitted the song rather well. I learned it immediately, and have been singing it on an off ever since, either on my own or, for a few years in the 1980s, with Chris Wood on fiddle. It seems like a suitable song to post here on the eve of Trafalgar Day.

Vaughan Williams had the song from a Mr Leatherday (sometimes given as Latterday), a sailor of King’s Lynn, Norfolk, in 1905.

On Board A '98, collected by Vaughan Williams from Mr Leatherday, 1905. From the Full English archive.

On Board A ’98, collected by Vaughan Williams from Mr Leatherday, 1905. From the Full English archive.

Needless to say, I think, the song can be found in nineteenth century printed sources at Broadside Ballads Online, the Bodleian Library’s revamped and much improved ballad site; see http://ballads.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/search/roud/1461

On Board of a Ninety-Eight, printed by J. Catnach, Seven Dials

On Board of a Ninety-Eight, printed by J. Catnach, Seven Dials “between 1813 and 1838” from the Bodleian collection.

One of my wife’s ancestors was a Greenwich Pensioner, although not a resident of Greenwich Hospital itself. In the 1841 Census John O’Leary’s wife and five children are listed as living in Portsea; while he, we imagine, was off at sea. In 1851 his occupation is given as Greenwich Pensioner – one assumes he had “done his duty, served his time”, although whether he now “blessed his fate” we can’t know. He and his family were all living in New Rents, Ashford, Kent. This is a really strange coincidence – Ashford is my home town, and I certainly would have had ancestors living in the town in 1851; Carol had been unaware that any of her forebears had any connection with Kent, still less Ashford. The association seems to have been shortlived, however, as the O’Leary family were no longer in Ashford by the time of the next census in 1861.

On Board a Ninety-Eight

Andy Turner: vocal, G/D anglo-concertina

August 26, 2013

Week 105 – Nancy of Yarmouth

“A particular favourite”, as the broadsides used to say.

I learned this from Suffolk singer Fred Ling, on the LP Sailor Men and Serving Maids (Volume 6 in the Topic/Caedmon series The Folk Songs of Britain). His fine performance  was recorded by Peter Kennedy in 1953 at the famous  Blaxhall Ship. Listening back to that recording now, I seem to have changed the tune a bit in the 30-odd years that I’ve been singing the song. Still, if you’ve got a problem with that sort of thing, you’d probably be best off not listening to folk music.

'Nancy Of Yarmouth' from the Lucy Broadwood Manuscript Collection, via the EFDSS Full English site.

‘Nancy Of Yarmouth’ from the Lucy Broadwood Manuscript Collection, via the EFDSS Full English site.

Nancy of Yarmouth

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

July 8, 2012

Week 46 – The East Indiaman

Singing Together cover - Summer 1969

Singing Together cover – Summer 1969 from http://www.broadcastforschools.co.uk

Almost certainly the song which I have been singing for the longest time. I first learned this c1968 from the BBC Schools Radio programme Singing Together (or was it Time and Tune?). Then a decade or so later, when I got into folk music, my Mum (a primary school teacher) managed to get hold of a copy of the booklet which accompanied the series, and I relearned the song. It’s stayed in my repertoire ever since.

I know that various other people sing this song, including Keith Kendrick, who says that he learned it from John Adams – who learned it from a Singing Together booklet. On a Mudcat thread Keith writes

I have every reason to believe that it was not a ‘maritime’ song – as such – but a novelty item used in the English Music Halls in the 1800’s, but Johnny found it in a Children’s Radio broadcast support publication called ‘Singing Together for Schools’ in 1970.

There’s actually an index of songs included in Singing Together and this song doesn’t appear to be listed. Be that as it may, I definitely learned it from a schools radio programme, and it was before Autumn 1971, because that’s when I moved up to secondary school.

I’ve always felt, like Keith, that it’s not a “proper traditional song” (and I notice it’s not in the Roud index), but it’s great fun to sing.

And it’s also been great fun this evening finding so many nostalgic references to Singing Together on the web – lists of songs (‘Mango Walk’, ‘The Yellow Sheepskin’, ‘Rio Grande’) and those wonderful front covers (I remember the one pictured here so well – it  must surely have included ‘Dance Boatmen Dance’ and ‘Old Dan Tucker’).

The East Indiaman