Posts tagged ‘Surrey’

January 22, 2016

Week 231 – Georgie

When a singer knows upwards of 250 folk songs, you might reasonably expect his or her repertoire to include certain classic ballads – say, ‘The Wraggle Taggle Gypsies’, ‘Banks of Green Willow’, ‘The Unquiet Grave’ and ‘Georgie’. All widely sung on the folk scene, and widely encountered in British and American tradition. Well this time last year, I didn’t have any of those songs in my repertoire. With ‘Banks of Green Willow’ the problem has been – and continues to be – deciding exactly which of the many fine collected versions to learn. I do have a version of   ‘The Wraggle Taggle Gypsies’ lined up  to learn – indeed last January I was confidently saying that it would be the next song I learned. It wasn’t, and I’m wary of making any promises about quite when I might knuckle down and get it under my belt. But in the spring I did at least put together a version of ‘Georgie’ and have been singing it often enough since then to begin feeling at home with the song.

I found the melody some twenty years ago when scrolling through the copies of Vaughan Williams’ MSS held in the library named in his honour. In those days, these copies were available only on microfilm, whereas now, of course, you can get them all online. I was looking for songs RVW had collected in Kent – specifically those he noted from Mr and Mrs Truell of Gravesend. This song is the next one in the MS.

There’s a lack of clarity about its provenance. The page is headed “Kent Songs” but the source of the song is given as a Mr Jeffries, at Mitcham Fair (in Surrey). In the VWML index record the Place collected reads “England : Surrey : Mitcham CHECK” so clearly some doubt remains. I suppose Mr Jeffries may have been attending the annual fair, but have hailed from Kent. With no other information recorded about the singer, I guess we will never know.

Typically, Vaughan Williams noted just the tune and one verse – in this case verse 9 (verse 5 in my reconstruction)

He stole neither sheep nor cow
Nor oxen has he any
But he has stolen six of the king’s fat deer
He sold them to Lord Daney (Davey?)

Typically, also, I can’t quite decipher Rafe’s handwriting.

Geordie, collected by Ralph Vaughan Williams from a Mr. Jeffries, 13 Aug 1907. From the Full English archive.

Geordie, collected by Ralph Vaughan Williams from a Mr. Jeffries, 13 Aug 1907. From the Full English archive.

I have assembled a set of words from various oral and printed sources:

  • The first two verses – including the placing of the action on “a Whitsun Monday” and the “pretty little boy” line – come from a broadside printed by Armstrong in Liverpool in the 1820s.
  • Most of the other verses come from a Such ballad, from later in the nineteenth century, or the version collected by Henry Hammond from Sergeant Fudge, at East Combe Lydeard in Somerset.
  • The “lawyers, lawyers” verse meanwhile is based on an American version, collected by Vance Randolph from Georgia Dunaway, Fayetteville, Arkansas, in 1942.

You’ll find historical background to the ballad on Mudcat and the Mainly Norfolk site. Basically, there are two similar but distinct ballads: the Scottish ‘Geordie’, where the hero’s wife successfully saves him from the gallows, and the English ‘Georgie’ (or ‘Geordie’), where her efforts are in vain. The songs may or may not have been based on actual historical incidents. But, as with Shakespeare, it doesn’t really matter. Either way, the love and grief felt by the female protagonist are real enough.

Death of Georgy, printed by Armstrong of Liverpool between 1820 and 1824. From Broadside Ballads Online.

Death of Georgy, printed by Armstrong of Liverpool between 1820 and 1824. From Broadside Ballads Online.

Georgie

December 5, 2014

Week 172 – King Pharim

The first folk LPs I heard: Steeleye Span Below the Salt, All Around My Hat, Ten Man Mop; Tim Hart and Maddy Prior Folk Songs of Old England Vol 1; The Chieftains 5; The Watersons For Pence and Spicy Ale; the Copper Family A Song for Every Season. One thing which several of those had in common was really strong harmony vocals, especially on seasonal or ritual songs, and folk hymns and carols. Pride of place in this respect must go to For Pence and Spicy Ale with its harvest songs, its wassails, the magnificent ‘The Good Old Way’, and a really stirring rendition of ‘King Pharim’.

I heard all of these records c1976-77, when I was in the fifth form, going into the lower sixth. Alongside my burgeoning enthusiasm for traditional song, I was also a keen member of our school choir. Mostly, at Christmas, our repertoire came from Carols for Choirs (the green book) but we would also do the occasional number from The Oxford Book of Carols. I remember singing ‘Es ist ein Ros entsprungen’ one year, while the invitation-only Madrigal Choir (and no, I never was invited) did ‘In Dulci Jubilo’ from the same source. Anyway, rifling through the book, I was somewhat surprised and intrigued to discover that it contained a number of carols which I knew from folk LPs. Including, rather bizarrely, ‘King Pharim’. This was presented with a set of words which the editors had considered might be suitable for choirs (although I’m sure I’ve never heard any choir attempt it, and suspect I never will); but the footnotes also reproduced the somewhat incoherent lyrics as collected in Surrey from a family of gypsies by the name of Goby, in 1893. The collector was Lucy Broadwood, and she included the carol in her English Traditional Songs and Carols (1908). The notes in that book give the following information:

Child’s English and Scottish Ballads should without fail be consulted for notes on the carols “St. Stephen and Herod” and the “Carnal and the Crane.” The first-named is preserved in the British Museum, in a MS. judged to be of the time of Henry VI. It narrates that St. Stephen, dish-bearer to King Herod, sees the Star of Bethlehem, and tells the king that Christ is born. Herod scoffingly says that this is as likely as that the capon in the dish should crow. The capon thereupon rises, and crows “Christus natus est!” This legend is extremely ancient, and widely spread over Europe. Its source seems to be an interpolation in two late Greek MSS. of the so-called Gospel of Nicodemus. “The Carnal and the Crane” (see Sandys’ Christmas Carols and Husk’s Songs of the Nativity), appeared on broadsides of the middle of the eighteenth century. The well-informed crane instructs his catechumen, the carnal (i.e., crow), in matters pertaining to the early days of Jesus; and tells how the wise men tried to convince Herod of the birth of Christ by the miracle of the roasted cock, which rose freshly feathered, and crowed in the dish. It also relates the legend of the Instantaneous Harvest, which occurs in Apocryphal Gospels (see B. Harris Cowper’s Apocryphal Gospels). The carol consists of thirty stanzas, some of which have lines in common with the Surrey carol here given. It, likewise, is exceedingly corrupted and incoherent, and must have been transmitted orally from some very remote source. The singers of the Surrey version are very well known Gypsy tramps in the neighbourhood of Horsham and Dorking. “King Pharim” is of course a corruption of “King Pharaoh,” and that name is properly given in a very interesting traditional version of “The Carnal and the Crane” lately noted in Herefordshire. It is quite natural that gypsies should substitute “Pharaoh” for “Herod,” for, on the first appearance of gypsies in Europe (in the fifteenth century), the Church spread the legend that they came from Egypt with a curse upon them because they had refused to receive the Virgin and Child. The gypsies in time came to believe themselves Egyptians, and, according to Simson (1865), recognise Pharaoh as their former king. There is, however, an interesting allusion to Pharaoh in the Arabic Gospel of the Infancy, Chap. xxv.: “Thence they (Joseph, Mary and Jesus), went down to Memphis, and having seen Pharaoh they staid three years in Egypt; and the Lord Jesus wrought very many miracles in Egypt.” The editor of the Gospel adds, “Memphis may have been visited, but who was Pharaoh? Egypt was then under Roman rule.” The sixth verse of the “King Pharim” carol is a paraphrase of a passage in the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew, Chap. xx.

I’m pretty sure my friend Mike and I first went out “wassailing” Christmas 1976. That was just the two of us, but by the following year our numbers had swollen, and a sizeable band of singers continued to go out singing every Christmas for the next 10 years or so. We sang a whole bunch of songs pinched from the Watersons, but I don’t think this was one of them. However when Carol and I moved to Oxford in the late 1980s, and organised a carol-singing ensemble there, this did make it into our repertoire. I remember singing it with Magpie Lane too, in the early days, with instrumental accompaniment. Although it fell by the wayside after a year or two, it’s one of those songs I always sing around the house at Christmas-time. A couple of years ago I tried it for the first time on C/G anglo (instead of the more obvious G/D). It seemed to fit, so  I recorded it. The recording has languished in the vaults since then, but I think it’s time to let it see the light of day. This recording is also my first – and so far only – attempt to experiment with multi-tracking, so you get a bit of melodeon as a special treat. It’s not the most polished performance, but think Dr Johnson – dogs – hind legs etc.

King Pharim

Andy Turner – vocal, C/G anglo-concertina, D/A melodeon

Jean François Millet, The Flight Into Egypt, c. 1864. Image copyright the Art Institute Chicago.

Jean François Millet, The Flight Into Egypt, c. 1864. Image copyright the Art Institute Chicago.

September 1, 2013

Week 106 – The Deserter from Kent

I learned this from the Penguin Book Of English Folk Songs. It was collected in 1907 from a Mr Kemp, at Elstead in Surrey. The collector was Walter Ford, who was one of the early members of the Folk Song Society, and served on the committee. He wrote Lucy Broadwood’s obituary in the 1929 Journal; Dorothy De Val, in her In Search of Song: The Life and Times of Lucy Broadwood describes Ford as “a long-time members of the Society and a singer in the tradition of Plunket Greene, as well as a contemporary of Sharp at Cambridge.”

Mr Kemp was described by Ford as “an agricultural labourer, aged about 75”. But he may have knocked a decade and a half off the singer’s age: according to Classic English Folk Songs, the only likely candidate to be found in the 1901 census for Elstead is the 86-year old George Kemp.

The song is quite rare – the only other known version appears to be one which Ewan MacColl collected from the gipsy singer, Nelson Ridley. If the deserter did come from the West of Kent, that probably means he was deserting from the The Queen’s Own Royal West Kent Regiment; the soldiers who apprehend him, meanwhile, were from the 9th (East Norfolk) Regiment of Foot (later the Norfolk Regiment).

You can find a 1990 recording of this song on my album Love, Death and the Cossack.

The Deserter from Kent

February 26, 2012

Week 27 – As Broad as I was Walking

John Johnson and his wife on their golden wedding anniversary c.1940  - photo by George Garland of Petworth, from the Copper Family website

photo c. 1940 by George Garland of Petworth, from the Copper Family website

Bob Copper’s book Songs and Southern Breezes tells, in his usual easy, good-natured style, of his time in the 1950s running a pub in Hampshire, whilst working as a song collector for the BBC. Bob paints vivid pen-portraits of the rustic characters from whom he collected songs, and the book includes transcriptions of some of these songs. There’s one group of songs, however, which came via a slightly different route, the singer – John Johnson of Fittleworth – having died some years before Bob arrived in the area.

Fortunately Mr Johnson had written out the words of his songs in a book, and his daughter Mrs Gladys Stone, and son John were still able to remember the tunes. This one was recorded from John Johnson junior at Reigate in Surrey.

You can find the words on the Copper Family website.

As Broad as I was Walking