Posts tagged ‘Suffolk’

February 19, 2016

Week 235 – The Lobster

Percy Ling - photo by Doc Rowe

Percy Ling – photo by Doc Rowe

I received a comment recently on a post from October 2011, from the great granddaughter of the song’s source, the Suffolk singer Percy Ling. That reminded me that I know another of Percy’s songs, learned like ‘Underneath your apron’ from the Topic LP Singing Traditions of a Suffolk Family.

This has the potential to be easily the rudest song on this blog but, Percy being a man of great taste and discernment, he manages to avoid using any offensive words. Which is more than can be said for the seventeenth century version found in Bishop Percy’s Folio (c 1625-40), and quoted in full in this Musical Traditions article by Steve Gardham.

I think it’s also worth noting that Percy Ling provides, in verse 2, one of the great non-rhyming couplets in folk song – one of those cases where the singer seems to go out of their way to avoid an obvious rhyme. And, needless to say, I do exactly the same.

The Lobster

February 11, 2016

Week 234 – Johnny Abourne

Photo of Phoebe Smith by Mike Yates, from the EATMT website.

Tune, title, and words of verse 1 (mostly):  from the great Phoebe Smith, via Mike Yates’ recording on the Topic LP The Travelling Songster: An Anthology from Gypsy Singers.

All other words: from  ‘Bothy Songs & Ballads’ by John Ord.

Phoebe Smith’s title, ‘Johnny Abourne’, is a mishearing or corruption of the original Scottish title ‘Jamie Raeburn’.  Similarly, she consistently sang ‘Canada’  rather than the perhaps unfamiliar word ‘Caledonia’.

The Wikipedia entry for ‘Jamie Raeburn’ states that

Jamie Raeburn is reputed to have been a baker in Glasgow before being sentenced for petty theft, although he was allegedly innocent, and then sent out to the colonies as punishment…

In Robert Ford’s ‘Vagabond Songs and Ballads of Scotland: With Many Old and Familiar Melodies’ (1901) he writes the following in relation to the song:

The above was long a popular street song, all over Scotland, and sold readily in penny sheet form. The hero of the verses, in whose mouth the words are put, I recently learned on enquiry, through the columns of the Glasgow Evening Times, was a baker to trade, who was sentenced to banishment for theft, more than sixty years ago. His sweetheart, Catherine Chandlier, thus told the story of his misfortunes: We parted at ten o’clock and Jamie was in the police office at 20 minutes past ten. Going home, he met an acquaintance of his boyhood, who took him in to treat him for auld langsyne. Scarcely had they entered when the detectives appeared and apprehended them. Searched, the stolen property was found. They were tried and banished for life to Botany Bay. Jamie was innocent as the unborn babe, but his heartless companion spoke not a word of his innocence.

You’ll find numerous recordings of the song from Scottish tradition at

I’m always amazed that this version, with it’s wonderful tune, is not more widely sung.

Jamie Raeburn: broadside printed by James Kay, Glasgow. Probable period of publication: 1840-1850. From the National Library of Scotland Word on the Street site.

Jamie Raeburn: broadside printed by James Kay, Glasgow. Probable period of publication: 1840-1850. From the National Library of Scotland Word on the Street site.

Johnny Abourne

November 23, 2014

Week 170 – William Rufus

One last song learned from the LP Who owns the game? (see Week 165 and Week 166). Mike Yates and John Howson recorded this one from Roy Last of Mendlesham Green.

Roy Last. Photo by John Howson (?) from the EATMT website.

Roy Last. Photo by John Howson (?) from the EATMT website.

It tells, of course, of the death of King William II, aka William Rufus, who succeeded his father William (the Conqueror) in 1087, and was killed whilst on a hunting trip in the New Forest on 2nd August 1100; today the Rufus Stone marks the spot.

Historians are divided as to whether this was simply a hunting accident, or an assassination. Either is entirely plausible. The fact that, immediately afterwards, his brother Henry rushed off to Winchester to seize the treasury, and had himself crowned just days later in London without waiting for either the Archbishop of Canterbury of York to arrive, might support the idea that this was a premeditated killing. But equally it might just be evidence of quick thinking on Henry’s part – you didn’t get far as a member of the Norman, Angevin or Plantagenet royal families if you weren’t prepared to take the bull by the horns, and snatch at every opportunity for self-advancement.

The Rufus Stone in the shade, New Forest -; from Wikimedia Commons.

The Rufus Stone in the shade, New Forest –; from Wikimedia Commons.

I had always assumed that the song dates from the later nineteenth century (it begins “800 years ago, sir”). In fact I’ve just found it as ‘The Ballad of William Rufus’, seven verses long, in The Romance of the Scarlet Leaf: And Other Poems; with Adaptations from the Provençal Troubadours by Lyndhurst-based versifier Hamilton Aide, published 1865 by Edward Moxon & Co. There is a note to say “This ballad has become popular in the New Forest. Several of the songs that follow have been set to music, and are published”. The songs in question are not traditional or anonymous verses which the author has rescued from obscurity, they are by Aine himself. ‘The Ballad of William Rufus’ was popular enough to be quoted in Two Knapsacks A Novel of Canadian Summer Life by John Campbell (1840-1904). Somehow it must also have made its way to Suffolk. I wonder if Roy Last might have learned it at school?

The song has been rarely collected in tradition. Cecil Sharp got a version from the rather wonderfully monikered  Theophilus George Pritchard at Compton Martin, Somerset in December 1905. And there is a version in Vaughan Williams’ MS, noted in 1954 from New Forest artist Juanita Berlin – here’s a 1956 Pathé film about Juanita and her husband Sven, if you’re interested.

The song’s use in the New Forest – as a spoken prologue to a Mummers’ play – is also mentioned in Chapter 2 of The Fire Kindlers: The Story Of The Purkis Family, a (slightly fanciful) family history written in the late 1930s by  Leslie S. Purkis. The Purkis family, it seems, were historically charcoal burners in the New Forest. And legend has it that it was a member of the family who discovered the dead king’s body, and carried it in his cart to Winchester.

William Rufus

November 8, 2014

Week 168 – The Fellow Who Played the Trombone

Jimmy Knights. Photo by Keith Summers? from Musical Traditions.

Jimmy Knights. Photo by Keith Summers? from Musical Traditions.

More smutty innuendo from East Anglia.

I think I first heard this sung in the early 1980s by Dave Townsend, although I remember that Ramsbottom, who were going at around the same time, also used to do it. I learned the song, as I assume Dave had done, from the Topic LP Sing, Say and Play – a companion album to The Earl Soham Slog, featuring traditional songs and dance music from Suffolk recorded by Keith Summers.

The singer of this song was Jimmy ‘Holy Jim’ Knights, born in 1880 in the village of Debach, and  recorded by Keith in 1975 at his home in Little Glenham. You can read about Jimmy in Chapter 4 of Sing, Say or Pay, Keith’s survey of East Suffolk Country Music, reprinted on the Musical Traditions website. And you can hear Keith’s recordings on the British Library Sounds website. The songs available include two recordings of ‘The Fellow Who Played the Trombone’, and there are interviews with the singer – then well into his nineties but sounding very much full of life. Go to and search for Jimmy (‘Holy Jim’) Knights.

The song itself was apparently written in 1896 by the music hall performer Walter Kino.

The Fellow Who Played the Trombone

October 26, 2014

Week 166 – Poison Beer

Fred Whiting. Photo by John Howson.

Fred Whiting. Photo by John Howson.

Like last week’s song ‘Who Owns the Game?’ this was recorded by Mike Yates and John Howson from the Suffolk singer Fred Whiting, and I learned it from the LP Who Owns the Game? – which, contrary to what I initially wrote last week, is available on CD from Veteran. And once again, Fred Whiting seems to be the only known source for the song.

According to Sing, Say or Pay! Keith Summers’ survey of East Suffolk Country Music (Musical Traditions Article MT027), Fred had the song from Cropther Harvey from Redlingfield:

It’s amazing, you know, what some of those old boys could drink too.  I was playing in Rishangles Swan once and there was an old boy called Swaler Parrott and nearly every five minutes he’d bang on the bar and shout “I’ll have another skep”.  Five minutes later “I’ll have another skep” (pint), and he must have had 18 pints that night, and do you know he walked home as straight as a crow in a rain storn.

Old Cropther Harvey from Redlingfield – nearly all his songs were about beer-drinking, and that’s where I learnt that song Poison Beer from.  My dad used to knock about with him – they were both shepherds and both sang beer songs – “If you want to get rid of yer beer, I’ve got plenty of room down here”.

Beyond that, I know nothing about the song. But presumably it dates from the second half of the nineteenth century, when the Temperance movement was in full swing.






Poison Beer

October 17, 2014

Week 165 – Who owns the game?

I first met Mike Yates in April 1984 in the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library. We both happened to be visiting the library, and were introduced by Malcolm Taylor the Librarian, who knew that I had “discovered” a traditional singer, Charlie Bridger. A week or two later, on St George’s Day, Mike came down to Kent to record Charlie at his home in Stone-in-Oxney. Over lunch at the Ferry Inn, Mike was enthusing about the recordings he had been making in Suffolk, and in particular about this song, which would be the title track of ‘Who owns the game?’, an LP released later in 1984 on Mike’s Home-Made Music label.

This song certainly has a home-made feel to it. Mike recorded it from Fred ‘Pip’ Whiting, of Kenton in Suffolk – actually better known as a fiddle-player than a singer – and it has so far only ever been collected from Fred. Fred learned most of his songs in local pubs; this one he picked up in Burstall Half Moon.

The song raises a perfectly reasonable question. It also charts the lessening severity over times of the punishment meted out to those found guilty of poaching: grandfather – transported; father – two or three months’ oakum picking; singer – fined.

You can hear a 1980 recording of the song made by Carole Pegg in The Victoria, Earl Soham on the British Library website – but only, I’m afraid, if you are affiliated with a UK Further or Higher Education establishment. [Edit 18/10/2014] The LP ‘Who owns the game?’ has unfortunately never seen any kind of digital release, as far as I’m aware. A shame, as it has a lot of good performances of both songs and tunes. The LP Who owns the game? has been released on CD by Veteran, and is well worth hearing both for the songs and the tunes. There will be more songs learned from the record making an appearance in future weeks on this blog.

Who owns the game?

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

July 27, 2013

Week 101 – Come and be my little teddy bear

For Carol, with love.

I learned this from the singing and playing of Suffolk fiddler Harkie Nesling, on the Topic LP The Earl Soham Slog.

The song was also included on the Veteran CD Good Hearted Fellows. Mike Yates notes

The term ‘Teddy Bear’ was first coined sometime around November, 1902, when American President Theodore ‘Teddy’ Roosevelt was hunting in Mississippi. He had failed to shoot
anything, so friends captured a bear, which they tethered to a tree, and invited him to shoot it. Roosevelt’s reply: ‘Spare the bear. I will not shoot a tethered animal,’ soon became common knowledge and later that month Clifford & Rose Michtom of Brooklyn produced a soft bear which they called‘Teddy’. I would suspect that Harkie Nesling’s tune and short text probably date from the period 1902 up to the outbreak of the Great War in 1914, a time when Teddy Bears were very much in vogue and millions were sold in Europe and America. At least one other similar piece can be dated to 1907: this is Be My Little Teddy Bear by Vincent Bryan (best known for writing In the Sweet Bye and Bye) and Max Hoffman. Sadly, though, this is not the song that Harkie sings.

(from Bear)

You can hear Keith Summers’ recording of Harkie Nesling singing this song on the British Library website.

You can hear a 1907 recording of that other Teddy Bear song, sung by Ada Jones and Billy Murray, at

Come and be my little teddy bear

Andy Turner: vocal, C/G anglo-concertina

May 19, 2013

Week 91 – The Nutting Girl

The memory is a bit fuzzy at the edges, but I have a very clear recollection of the first time I heard ‘The Nutting Girl’. The occasion was the annual House Music competition at my school, and I reckon it would have been in the Spring of 1975. I was in Burra House, and no doubt would have played some part in the competition. Maybe this was the year I played ‘Stranger on the Shore’ on the trumpet. Whatever I did, I’m sure it was instantly forgettable – unless, of course, it was so bad that the audience found they couldn’t forget it, no matter how hard they tried.

Barrett were commonly reckoned the House to beat in the three cultural competitions: Drama, Debating and Music. They had at least three really good piano players: Dave Finch, who was in my year, and Terry Creissen and Barnaby Vafidis, who were a year or two older. On this occasion, Terry Creissen came on stage with Tim Bull (later a dancer with Mr Jorrocks Morris, and melodeon-player with the dance band Florida) and, if memory serves, Terry’s older brother Gary, and Matthew Vafidis, older brother of the aforementioned Barnaby. They had with them a big book of songs by Beethoven, but what they sang – unaccompanied – was ‘The Nutting Girl’.

Now I can’t claim that I had some sort of Damascene conversion (that came, if my chronology is right, some 8 or 9 months later, after seeing Steeleye Span on Top of the Pops). But the memory of having heard this song sung on the school stage has stayed with me.

I subsequently discovered that the boys were dancing with Headcorn Morris. And I think it’s a fair bet that they had learned this song from the performance by John Kirkpatrick on Morris On. It would be another 2 or 3 years before I heard that album, by which time I had already heard a field recording of ‘The Nutting Girl’ being sung by Cyril Poacher in the famous Blaxhall Ship. This was in a recording made by Peter Kennedy and Alan Lomax in 1954, and included on the LP Songs of Seduction, which was the first record I borrowed on joining my local public library’s record department. It’s very much a live recording, with plenty of audience participation and, naturally, calls from the “Chairman” Wicketts Richardson for “order please”.

I was delighted to find a few years ago that Peter Kennedy had also filmed a singing session in the Ship, and even more pleased when the film was included on the double DVD set Here’s a Health to the Barley Mow: A Century of Folk Customs and Ancient Rural Games. In fact I’ve just discovered that you can watch the 17 minute film on the East Anglian Film Archive website.

I’ve heard it said that Cyril had another pint before each new take of this song, which is why there is, as it were, a certain lack of continuity between the takes. In fact, in the notes to the Musical Traditions CD Plenty of Thyme  Rod Stradling puts the number of takes as nineteen – in which case, it’s not surprising if Cyril seems slightly the worse for wear by the end; in fact it’s a wonder he was still standing at all!

Those notes also tell us that Cyril learned the song from his maternal grandfather, William ‘Cronie’ Ling:

My grandfather Cronie Ling would put me on his knee and sing The Nutting Girl – that was the first song I heard, and he used to let me smoke his pipe too.

From the photo below it would appear that not only the song, but also the pipe-smoking habit stayed with him.

Cyril Poacher - photo from the East Anglian Traditional Music Trust website

Cyril Poacher – photo from the East Anglian Traditional Music Trust website


“The nut girl” broadside ballad from the Bodleian Library collection. Printed by J. Pitts, Seven Dials, London between 1819 and 1844.

The Nutting Girl

February 19, 2013

Week 78 – Flash Company

Throughout my student days at Oxford I sang in various harmony groups with Caroline Jackson-Houlston. At one point we were a quartet with Jane Sinclair and Mike Eaton, but in my final year they had both left Oxford – Jane had graduated, and Mike was having a year abroad. Caroline and I carried on as a duo and, as I recall, it was only at this point that we adopted the name Flash Company. So this was our signature tune – and actually I think it was the only song in our repertoire that wasn’t unaccompanied.

At the time, if asked, I would probably have said that we sang Percy Webb’s version – the title track from the 1974 Topic LP Flash Company: Traditional Singers from Suffolk and Essex. But in fact I suspect that Caroline put the words together from various sources, and we were also almost certainly influenced by June Tabor and Martin Simpson’s recording, recently released at the time on their A Cut Above album.

When I left Oxford I found that the concertina accompaniment put it in a singable key for me, and as I’ve never had an enormous number of chorus songs in my repertoire, I’ve carried on doing it (occasionally) ever since.

Flash Company

Andy Turner: vocal, G/D anglo-concertina