Posts tagged ‘Seamus Ennis’

January 9, 2015

Week 177 – The trees they do grow high

Tuesday 6th January 2015 was the centenary of the birth of Bob Copper. This anniversary was marked with an article in the Daily Telegraph, while the Sussex brewers Harveys began brewing ‘Copper Ale’ in his honour. And later this month, there’s a day-long celebration of Bob’s life at Cecil Sharp House, in which I’m very pleased to say I will be participating (not least because I’ll be able to pick up a few bottles of the Harveys ale).

As the Telegraph article said, Bob Copper “is rightly hailed as one of the key figures in 20th-century English folk music”. He made a lasting impression on me with his singing, his books, and his stories of country life in days gone by, and the central role which music-making played – for his family and others. He was also a thoroughly nice bloke and decent human being. He always seemed to be good-humoured, always generous in his encouragement and support of other singers.

Back in 1991 or thereabouts, I played the Lewes Saturday Folk Club and Nellie’s at Tonbridge on consecutive nights. After the Lewes gig I was put up by Bob’s next-door neighbour George Wagstaff (another really nice man, sadly no longer with us). George knew that I would want to meet Bob, so he invited him round for a big cooked breakfast. Suitably fortified, straight after breakfast Bob (then in his late seventies) was setting off with John Copper and Jon Dudley on what I think was an annual walking tour of Sussex.

Bob Copper - photo copyright Ian Anderson of fRoots magazine

Bob Copper – photo copyright Ian Anderson of fRoots magazine

I learned this song from Bob’s singing on the Veteran CD When the May is all in Bloom.  It’s not from the family repertoire; rather, Bob learned the song from Seamus Ennis when they were both working as song collectors for the BBC in the 1950s.

 

The trees they do grow high

August 9, 2014

Week 155 – The Bald-Headed End of the Broom

This song was recorded in 1954 by Sean O’Boyle and Seamus Ennis from Mrs. Martha Gillen, Co. Antrim. I remember Dave Townsend singing it at the Heritage Folk Club in Oxford, in the early 1980s, and learned it soon afterwards from Peter Kennedy’s Folksongs of Britain & Ireland.

It’s originally an American song, recorded by the likes of old-time singer and banjo-player Grandpa Jones – you can hear his version on the Internet Archive. This Mudcat thread cites examples of the song in print going back to the 1870s, as well as an 1885 appearance in the wonderfully-named Marchant’s Gargling Oil Songster. Further details are provided, meanwhile, in The Alabama Folk Lyric edited by Ray Broadus Browne, along with a couple of versions recorded from oral tradition in Alabama.

Mrs Gillen’s version however is, I suspect, the only one to refer to the old saying “A mole in the arm’s worth two in the leg”, which is probably the line which first attracted me to the song.

All the other versions in the Roud Index are from North America – apart from one recorded by Jim Carroll and Pat Mackenzie from Walter Pardon in 1989, and one fragment  recorded from an unknown singer by John Howson at The Railway Tavern, Finningham, Suffolk, which you can hear on the British Library website.

 

I have, I think, always followed the song with a tune which I also learned from Dave Townsend. It was printed, as ‘Sussex Polka’, in his First collection of English country dance tunes. Dave learned it from Vic Gammon, and it would appear to be a slightly misremembered (by Dave and/or me) version of ‘What a Beau My Granny Was’.

 

The Bald-Headed End of the Broom / What a Beau My Granny Was

Andy Turner: vocal, C/G anglo-concertina