Posts tagged ‘Sussex’

August 12, 2016

Week 260 – Jolly Good Song

So, ladies and gentlemen, here is my two hundred and sixtieth consecutive weekly post. Which means that A Folk Song A Week is five years old.

When I started the blog, I guesstimated that I knew about 150 songs. Obviously that turned out to be a significant understatement – the last time I did a reckoning, I counted up about another fifty songs that I know, plus more that I don’t know yet, but really must get around to learning some time. Given time, I hope to post all of those here. However, after five years, I’m going to cut myself some slack. This is certainly not the end of the blog, but I will no longer be maintaining a strict weekly publishing schedule. That’s not to say there won’t be a post next week, or the week after – but don’t count on it. So, if you want to be sure of never missing a post, do subscribe using the tools on the right.

I have to say, starting up this blog was one of the best decisions I ever made. I started it at a time when I really wasn’t doing enough singing – this way, I thought, I’ll be forced to sing at least once a week. Also, a couple of years previously, I had had a medical problem with my throat, which prevented me from singing for the best part of a year. I was (am) afraid that the problem might return, and I wanted to document my repertoire while I could. Primarily for my own benefit, but also for my children, and for posterity – whether or not posterity was remotely interested.

Obviously, I can’t speak for posterity, but it has been exceedingly gratifying to receive many positive comments – here, on Facebook, and just bumping into people at gigs, sessions and elsewhere. So thank you, everyone who has had nice things to say. I started the blog for myself, but it’s still very satisfying to know that other people appreciate it.

So, what have I learned? Well, not very many new songs, I’m afraid. I’m sure there were others, but the ones that spring to mind are ‘Georgie, ‘The Bonny Bunch of Roses O’, ‘Ye Boys o’ Callieburn’ and ‘Jack Williams’. But then there have been other songs which I’d half known for years, but which this blog prompted me to learn properly; for instance ‘All things are quite silent’, ‘Master Kilby’ and ‘House in the Country’. And then there have been a great many songs which I used to sing, had somehow allowed to fall into neglect, and then – reviving them to post here – was delighted to find were really far too good not to sing: ‘Do Me Ama’ and John Kirkpatrick’s ‘Dust to Dust’ for example. Oh, and I’ve also gained a greater facility at knocking up simple concertina accompaniments – something I’ve tended to agonise over in the past – when the need arises: by way of example, see ‘Here’s Adieu Sweet Lovely Nancy’, ‘Warlike Seamen‘, ‘Saint Stephen’ and ‘The Somerset Wassail’.

And I’ve learned so much writing up the weekly blog entries. Even where I thought I knew quite a bit about the song already, a bit of digging around on my bookshelves and on the web has invariably produced further information. There’s such a wealth of information online now for anyone with an interest in these old songs, and the sources continue to multiply. When I began, we were still marvelling at the EFDSS Take Six resource. But that turned out just to be whetting our appetite for the riches which the Full English archive would offer. The Bodleian, too, has expanded and improved its Broadside Ballad site. And then there’s sites like Tobar an Dualchais, Gloucestershire Traditions and, one I found just recently, The music of Sally Sloane.  My heartfelt thanks to all the people involved in building and updating these sites. And to everyone whose contributions to Mudcat I have plundered over the last five years, especially to the late Malcolm Douglas, who I never knew, but whose name I am always pleased to see cropping up on a thread about a song’s origins.

And a massive thank you to Reinhard Zierke, whose Mainly Norfolk site is normally my first port of call when researching a song (if only because it always provides me with a Roud number and a link to the Full English), and whose comments here have been unfailingly constructive and helpful. Reinhard – you’re a gent.

As for this song, for a long while I’ve had it stored up to use as The Last Song On The Blog. Well, this isn’t actually the Last Post, but it seemed like a suitable time to post it here. Bob Copper sings it on Turn o’ the Year, disc 4 of the Leader A Song for Every Season box set; although I learned it from my mate Adrian Russell, on one of the sing-songs we used to have driving between country pubs in Kent. Being polite, Bob Copper sings “give the old bounder some beer”. Adrian, I’m pretty sure, always used to sing “give the old bugger some beer”, which I imagine is closer to what Bob and his father’s Rottingdean companions actually sang between songs in the Black Horse.

At the end of a song, quite often the company in general would sing,

A jolly good song and jolly well sung,
Jolly good company, everyone;
If you can beat it you’re welcome to try,
But always remember the singer is dry.

Give the old bounder some beer —
He’s had some, he’s had some.
Then give the old bounder some more.

Half a pint of Burton won’t hurt’n, I’m certain,
O, half a pint of Burton won’t hurt’n, I’m sure.

s – u – p

(notes to Bob and Ron Copper English Shepherd and Farming Songs, Folk Legacy Records)

Three men discuss various local issues over a pint of beer and a cigarette at the Wynnstay Arms in Ruabon, Denbighshire, Wales. From the Ministry of Information Second World War Collection, Imperial War Museum. © IWM (D 18478)

Three men discuss various local issues over a pint of beer and a cigarette at the Wynnstay Arms in Ruabon, Denbighshire, Wales. From the Ministry of Information Second World War Collection, Imperial War Museum. © IWM (D 18478)

Clearly, it was not only in Sussex that this refrain was used in such a way. On Mudcat, Robin Turner (no relation, as far as I know) recalls

As a lad in the late 1940s and early 50s, I was taken to many concerts of the Ullswater Pack, in pubs such as the White Lion Patterdale, and the Travellers rest at Glenridding…

Many of the tunes I still recall, and I particularly recall the enthusiastic and knowledgeable audience participation at these concerts. After each singer, the MC for the evening would lead everybody in a short chorus of appreciation of the singer, which went:
“Its a Jolly good song, and its jolly well sung, Jolly good company every-one, And he who can beat it is welcome to try, But always remember the Singer is Dry!” followed by a common roar “Sup, yer Bloodhounds, Sup!”

 

And the same usage is described in this article in The Glasgow Herald, 18 September 1915

Old, old songs belonging to the early Victorian age were given by soldiers who had great emotion and broke down sometimes in the middle of a verse. There were funny men dressed in the Mother Twankey style or in burlesque uniforms who were greeted with veils of laughter by their comrades. An Australian giant played some clever card tricks, and another Australian recited Kipling’s “Gunga Din” with splendid fire. And between every “turn” the soldiers in the fiels roared out a chorus:—

“Jolly good song,
Jolly well sung,
If you can think of a better you’re welcome to try,
But don’t forget the singer is dry,
Give the poor beggar some beer!”

 

Meanwhile, in Yorkshire, where they pride themselves on plain speaking, this recording of the Holme Valley Beagles suggests that there’s no messing around with “bounder” or “beggar”. Here the refrain is

Sup, you bugger, sup!

And so say all of us.

 

Happy old man drinking glass of beer, 1937.

Happy old man drinking glass of beer, 1937.

Oh, there’s one last thank you before I go: to Jon Boden, whose A Folk Song A Day provided the original inspiration for this blog, and several others besides. Look what you started, Jon…

Jolly Good Song

July 15, 2016

Week 256 – Baltimore

A saucy song, and no mistake, which I learned from the Topic LP Round Rye Bay for More: Traditional Songs from the Sussex Coast, featuring Mike Yates’ 1976 recordings of the irrepressible  Sussex fisherman Johnny Doughty. Or, possibly, learned from my friend Adrian Russell, who had learned it from a Johnny Doughty recording.

I listened to Johnny singing this recently, and found that he only had  a few verses. I then looked online for fuller versions, and couldn’t really find any. So I have made use of my knowledge of the female anatomy, imperfect though I’m sure this is, to expand the song.

Baltimore

March 18, 2016

Week 239 – All things are quite silent

The first song in the Penguin Book of English Folk Songs, Vaughan Williams noted this on the 22nd December 1904, from Mr Ted Baines of Lower Beeding in Sussex. That’s just down the road from Monksgate, where RVW collected many fine songs from Peter and Harriet Verrall. He had only three songs from Mr Baines, but what a find this one was – like ‘Master Kilby’ and ‘The Brisk Young Widow’, it’s a song which has been collected only once from tradition.

Unlike those two songs, a broadside version has been identified – ‘I’ll mourn for my sailor; Or, The Compulsion’, printed in Hull, Manchester and London, but not yet (as far as I can ascertain) accessible on the web.

Vaughan Williams recorded that Ted Baines was an agricultural labourer, aged “about 70”. Malcolm Douglas, in his biographical notes in Classic English Folk Songs (the revised edition of the Penguin book) identifies an Edwin Baines in the 1881 census, aged 54, so quite likely our singer – except he doesn’t seem to be in the 1901 census.

‘All things are quite silent’ is one of those songs I’ve sort of known for years – since the late 1970s in fact, having first heard it on Steeleye Span’s LP Hark! The Village Wait. I’ve tried to sing the melody as collected – it’s a very simple AABA type tune, whereas most people, following Steeleye and Shirley Collins, sing an ABCA variation. The words, however, are a sometimes misremembered mixture of those found in the Penguin book, and some which have snuck in from other people’s versions.

All Things Are Quite Silent, as collected from Ted Baines, 22 Dec 1904. From the Full English archive.

All Things Are Quite Silent, as collected from Ted Baines, 22 Dec 1904. From the Full English archive.

All things are quite silent

March 12, 2016

Week 238 – The Faithful Sailor Boy

I always think of this as a Kentish song. I learned it from George Spicer, who was born at Little Chart near Ashford, and learned most of his songs as a young man in Kent. In the 1940s Francis Collinson noted it from William Crampon from Smarden. And in the 1980s, when I met Charlie Bridger, I found that he also knew the song – at least, he knew the first verse and chorus, and I was able to provide him with the rest of the words.

But of course the song was known throughout Britain, and further afield. In his notes to the Musical Traditions CD Plenty of Thyme by Suffolk singer Cyril Poacher, Rod Stradling writes

The Faithful Sailor Boy was written by George W. Persley towards the end of the 19th century. Few songs have achieved such widespread popularity among country singers and their audiences. It turns up again and again in tap-room sing-songs throughout Britain, even through into the 1980s. Gavin Greig described it as being “Very popular in Aberdeenshire in the early years of this century” (and, sure enough, Daisy Chapman had it in her repertoire), and we have heard it in both Donegal and Cork in the last few years. Two versions have been found in the North Carolina mountains (there’s a ’20s hillbilly recording by Flora Noles, Sailor Boy’s Farewell—Okeh 45037), while other other sets have been reported from as far away as Australia and Tristan da Cunha.

Actually, the authorship of the piece is unclear: the song’s entry in the New Penguin Book of English Folk Songs states

The song appeared on one or two late nineteenth-century broadsides, and was probably written about 1880. Several sources claim that it was composed by the well-known songwriters Thomas Payne Westendorf (1848-1923) and G. W. Persley (1837-94), but we have not been able to confirm this, nor have we found any original sheet music.

 

Blackberry Fold - Topic LP sleeve (from the Mainly Norfolk website)

Blackberry Fold – Topic LP sleeve (from the Mainly Norfolk website)

Although I learned this from the Topic LP Blackberry Fold I think the first time I ever heard it was at a meeting of the shortlived folk club which Alan Castle  (subsequently the organiser of the long-running Tenterden Folk Festival) ran at the Victoria in Ashford, circa 1979. On that occasion it was sung by Adrian Russell, at least one of the Creissen brothers (Terry and/or Gary) and probably Tim Bull. Adrian or Gary may remember – so if you’re remotely interested (and I can’t think why you would be, to be honest), keep an eye on the Comments below this blog post.

The Faithful Sailor Boy

January 15, 2016

Week 230 – Corduroy

Many of the Copper Family’s songs are much loved and widely sung – national treasures, you might say. This is not one of those, but there was a time when I would be called upon to sing it at least once a year. I learned it from the Copper Family 4 LP set A Song for every Season, and from Bob Copper’s book Early to rise. 

The entry for this song on the Copper Family website links to this Mudcat post where the late Malcolm Douglas provides the following background information:

This was a popular song of the mid-19th century; presumably it had its origins in the Music Halls–the tune is very much of that type. There are several broadside copies at the Bodleian Library Broadside Collection:

Suit of Corderoy Printed between 1846 and 1854 by E.M.A. Hodges, (from Pitt’s), wholesale toy warehouse, 31 Dudley street [S]even Dials.

The suit of corduroy Printed between 1860 and 1883 by H. Disley, 57, High-street, St. Giles, London. W.C.

Suit of corduroy Printed by Bebbington, J.O. Oldham-road, Manchester.

Suit of corduroy! Printed and Sold between 1849 and 1862 at Such’s Song Mart, 123, Union Street, Boro’ S.E.

There is also a mostly illegible Glasgow edition, which specifies the tune as that of Four and Nine.

Some of the above are in Standard English, others are written in the “Stage Cockney” of the day. There isn’t a great deal of variation in the texts, though locations and the name of the tailors vary. Evidently, the song made it to the USA as well; there is a songsheet at the “America Singing” Collection:

The Suit of Corduroys H. De Marsan, Publisher, 60 Chatham Street, N. Y. [no date.] Again, much the same, but with the incontinence episode omitted, perhaps for the benefit of tender American sensibilities!

 

Suit of corderoy. Broadside from the Bodleian collection. Printed between 1846 and 1854, by E. Hodges, Printer, (from Pitt's), wholesale toy warehouse, 31 Dudley street [S]even Dials

Suit of corderoy. Broadside from the Bodleian collection. Printed between 1846 and 1854, by E. Hodges, Printer, (from Pitt’s), wholesale toy warehouse, 31 Dudley street [S]even Dials

I have followed John Copper’s lead on the 1970s recording and inserted an additional raspberry into the last line of the song. As John so eloquently put it

Well, hardly worth paying a man for one raspberry

Corduroy

September 18, 2015

Week 213 – Here’s Adieu Sweet Lovely Nancy

This must have been one of the first Copper Family songs I ever learned – although if my chronology is right, I think by the time I heard A Song for Every Season in the autumn of 1976 I was already familiar with the two-part harmony version on Tim Hart and Maddy Prior’s LP Folk Songs of Old England Vol. 1.

Back then, I used to sing it with my friend Mike Eaton (he was Ron to my Bob). I doubt I’ve sung it in public for many years, but it’s one of those songs which frequently gets an outing in the car, or when I’m just singing around the house. It might be a bit of a hoary old chestnut, but it’s a classic – is there anyone on the English folk scene who doesn’t know this song? (apart, it would seem, from the person who chose to sing this at the Bob Copper Centenary event back in January).

I’ve only recently worked out the concertina accompaniment, having borrowed a Bb/F anglo from Rob Fidler, the Fool with Bampton Morris. Previously I could never decide on a suitable key to play it in, but Eb (the People’s Key!) is just right – so many thanks, Rob.

The song was widely collected by the early twentieth century song collectors – exclusively, as far as I can see, in Southern England, although that might just reflect the fact that Sharp and his contemporaries did the vast majority of their collecting in the South. It was also, unsurprisingly, frequently printed on broadsides; in one case – the ‘New Sailor’s Farewell’, so looking for some unnecessary novelty, perhaps – the otherwise ubiquitous Nancy becomes Betsy.

My Lovely Nancy, from the Frank Kidson Broadside Collection, via the Full English.

My Lovely Nancy, from the Frank Kidson Broadside Collection, via the Full English.

Here’s Adieu Sweet Lovely Nancy

Andy Turner – vocal, Bb/F anglo-concertina

August 6, 2015

Week 207 – Now All You Lads / Lord Rothschild / Old Green River

Three unrelated song fragments, none of which is long enough to deserve an entry of its own.

‘Now All You Lads’ is from the Copper Family. The song has its own Roud number but the first half of the song is normally found as part of Roud 1572, the ‘Brisk Young Bachelor’ family of songs. This is sometimes sung as a slightly comic (if misogynistic) piece, but in other versions is quite dark – that’s certainly the case in what is probably the best known version, Martin Carthy / the Albion Country Band’s ‘I Was a Young Man’. In Rottingdean, however, it served as Jim Copper’s passport to a free pint of beer: the notes on the Copper Family website say

This was the shortest song Jim knew and he had developed a terrific speed in the chorus “Twenty, eighteen, etc.” and thereby frequently qualified for the free pint of beer offered by the landlord of the local inn to the first man to sing a song.

Elsewhere it might also have served as a way of avoiding having to pay in a “Sing, Say or Pay” session. Charlie Bridger from Stone-in-Oxney in Kent sang me an example which he remembered being used for this purpose by one old boy who only knew the one song:

I had a wheelbarrow, the wheel it went round
I had a wheelbarrow, the wheel it went round
I had a wheelbarrow, the wheel it was narrow
I had a wheelbarrow, the wheel it went round

Now All You Lads

 

I learned ‘Lord Rothschild’ from Mike Waterson’s eponymous 1977 LP. Recently I heard a recording of him singing it at Sidmouth, circa 1988. In the intervening years he must either have discovered – or made up – additional verses to the song; having learned his original two verses more or less without trying, I’ve stuck to those.

Lord Rothschild

 

Bob Davenport sang ‘Old Green River’ on the Bob Davenport & The Rakes LP, 1977. Its full title is ‘I’ve Been Floating Down the Old Green River’, and it merits a Wikipedia entry. From where I learn that it was

a 1915 song with words by Bert Kalmar and music by Joe Cooper.

The song is sung from the point of view of a husband who has to explain to his wife why he stayed out until 4:30 in the morning. The tag line in the lyric is:

I had to drink the whole Green River dry
To get back home to you.

The song is a play on words, as Green River was a popular brand of whisky at the time.

The popular vocalist Billy Murray recorded the song for Victor Records in 1915.

And indeed you can listen to that 1915 recording, played on a 1905 Victor Type II Talking machine, on YouTube. There’s quite a lot more to it than the chorus which I learned from Bob Davenport. And the words aren’t the same! Oh well, it’s an aural tradition.

Old Green River

July 25, 2015

Week 205 – The Golden Vanity

This was number 286 in Professor Child’s list. But it’s not one of the “big ballads”, and the storyline (disappointingly, I’m sure, for ballad aficionados) has no incest, fratricide, sororicide, filicide, prolicide or suicide. Indeed the song is often sung to a fairly jaunty tune, and I must admit that, when planning a setlist, this is usually included in the “jolly songs with chorus” category. Having said that, stop to think about it for a while and you realise that the death toll is actually quite high.

This version comes from the Sussex fisherman Johnny Doughty, although I learned it from Everyman’s Book of British Ballads, edited by Roy Palmer. At the time I suspect I’d never heard Johnny Doughty singing, although subsequently I saw him singing a number of times at Sidmouth and the National Folk Music Festival. He was a real entertainer, who relished being the centre of attention. His performances were punctuated by sly winks, and asides to his wife sat in the front row, especially when the topic of “a drop of treacle” arose (as I recall, his favourite tipple was a pint of Guinness).

Johnny Doughty. Photo by Doc Rowe, from the Musical Traditions article

Johnny Doughty. Photo by Doc Rowe, from the Musical Traditions article “Johnny Doughty… an interview with Vic Smith”

A recording of this song made by Mike Yates was included on the Topic LP Round Rye Bay for more, and I think I must have heard that at some point in the early eighties. I never owned a copy, however, until earlier this year when I was sorting through my parents’ record collection and, to my surprise, found a copy of the album snuck in amongst the country dance bands, the Tim Laycock, the Strawhead, the Max Bygraves, and Your One Hundred Best Tunes compilations.

Mike Yates’s notes on Round Rye Bay for more (quoted at mainlynorfolk.info)  provide this background on the song’s origins:

Sir Walter Rawleigh has built a ship in the Netherlands,
Sir Walter Rawleigh has built a ship in the Netherlands,
And it is called the Sweet Trinity,
And was taken by the false gallaly,
Sailing in the Lowlands.

So begins a blackletter broadside [Version A in Child], “shewing how the famous ship called the Sweet Trinity was taken by a false Gally, and how it was again restored by the craft of a little sea-boy, who sunk the Gally,” that was printed during the period 1682-85 by Joshua Conyers, “at the Black-Raven, the 1st shop in Fetter-lane, next Holborn.”

The history books appear to have missed this particular episode in Raleigh’s life—no doubt because it was a flight of Conyers’, or some other unknown printer’s, imagination; a simple attempt to increase sales by the addition of a romantic and well-known name to an otherwise commonplace tale. Whatever the origin, the ballad certainly caught the popular imagination with the result that more than a hundred sets have been collected throughout England, Scotland, America and Australia. Johnny’s final couplet is, to my knowledge, unique to his version.

Johnny Doughty’s unique ending was a half-verse

Was there ever half a tale so sad
As this tale of the sea
Where we sailed by the lowlands low?

If I were learning the song today, I would almost certainly keep that in. But 30-odd years ago for some reason I found it unsatisfactory, so I made up my own, somewhat tongue-in-cheek final verse, in which the young cabin boy wreaks terrible revenge on the perfidious captain and his crew. Which, of course, increases the death toll even more…

The Golden vanity, or The low lands low. Such ballad from the Bodleian collection.

The Golden vanity, or The low lands low. Such ballad from the Bodleian collection.

The Golden Vanity

June 26, 2015

Week 201 – The Bonny Bunch of Roses O

Here’s one last Napoleon song (for the time being). It’s a song which I’ve only learned in recent weeks, although I’ve been aware of it for a very long time. I first came across it in Frank Purslow’s book Marrowbones, where the words are set to a slowed down version of the dance tune The Rose Tree. Since then I’ve heard numerous versions both on record and at folk clubs and festivals, but have never really felt inclined to take the song up. Largely, I think, because of the rather confused narrative structure of the song – who, exactly, is supposed to be talking to whom? And when? And in what tense? And why, yet again, does Napoleon think the best way to get to Russia from France is to go over the Alps?

The general consensus is that it’s a conversation between Napoleon’s only legitimate son, Napoleon Francis Joseph Charles (Prince Imperial, King of Rome, Prince of Parma, Placentia and Guastalla, Duke of Reichstadt, blah blah blah) and his mother, Napoleon’s second wife,  Marie Louise, Duchess of Parma. I’ve no idea if the young Napoleon had delusions of restoring the glories of his father’s Empire, but it seems likely enough, given his father’s own inflated sense of self-worth, and the way that, later in the century, Louis-Napoleon / Napoleon III traded heavily on the family name. At all events, although he showed promise in his military training in exile in Austria, in 1832 he caught pneumonia, followed by TB, and drooped his youthful head for the last time, at the age of only 21.

What made me sit up and take notice of the song was hearing the Hastings fisherman Noah Gillette singing it on You Never Heard So Sweet, one of the second tranche of Topic’s The Voice of the People series, released in 2012. That recording was made by Bob Copper during his song-collecting days for the BBC, in 1954, and Bob’s time among the fishermen of Hastings Old Town is recounted in chapter 6 of his book Songs and Southern Breezes. The  song was actually the opening track on the 1977 Topic LP Songs and Southern Breezes, an album I have never owned, but had heard a couple of times over the years. I can only assume that I wasn’t paying proper attention on those occasions.

Noah Gillette - photo from the Copper Family website

Noah Gillette – photo from the Copper Family website

I was reminded of the song again by Shirley Collins’ multimedia presentation on Bob’s collecting activities as part of the Ten Thousand Times Adieu event at Cecil Sharp House in January this year. And as the bicentennial of Waterloo approached, I reckoned that if I was ever going to learn this song, the time to do it was now.

I’ve made no attempt to slavishly copy Noah Gillette’s words (in fact I’ve swapped a couple of the verses around), his phrasing or his melodic variations. But I have retained, for example, his “famous warbling songster” and his oh-so-simple, but really effective, trick of reversing two notes in the phrase “in spite of all the Universe”. I’ve also retained a really important phrase from the very last line. In nineteenth century broadsides, and versions noted down by the early collectors, the last two lines are usually

The deeds of bold Napoleon
Will sting the bonny bunch of roses O

But singing in 1950s Britain, perhaps mindful of recent historical events, Noah Gillette had changed this to

All the deeds of bold Napoleon
Will never conquer the Bonny bunch of roses, O

And that’s what I sing. Because, when all is said and done – and whatever Andrew Roberts might tell us to the contrary – we don’t have any more time for a little Napoleon than a little Hitler.

Bonny Bunch of Roses O - 19th century broadside from the Frank Kidson Manuscript Collection, via the Full English.

Bonny Bunch of Roses O – 19th century broadside from the Frank Kidson Manuscript Collection, via the Full English.

 

And following on from that thought, I really can’t resist sharing this photograph of a wonderful wartime newspaper cutting, which my friend Gavin Atkin spotted on the wall of Hunton Village Hall, in Kent. That’s the way to deal with jumped-up little dictators with their silly moustaches and their silly uniforms – call them a little squirt!

1940s newspaper cutting, photographed in Hunton Village Hall by Gavin Atkin.

1940s newspaper cutting, photographed in Hunton Village Hall by Gavin Atkin.

Incidentally, Gavin also maintains a blog. It’s mainly concerned with boats and boatbuilding, but you’ll also find a number of sea-related songs and tunes on the site. Do check it out.

The Bonny Bunch of Roses O

June 19, 2015

Week 200 – The Grand Conversation on Napoleon

At Waterloo, Napoleon did surrender… but the legend lived on, of course, and his years of exile on the lonely Isle of St Helena provided further material for those who sought to romanticise the man in verse or song. I think this is a rather fine  – if typically confused – example of such pieces. I first heard it in the late 1970s, on a Strawhead LP lent to me by my friend Simon Oliver. A few years later, on a visit to the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library, I looked the song up, and copied it out from the Journal of the Folk-Song Society Vol. 2 (1906). Vaughan Williams had collected the song in 1904, from Henry Burstow (born 1826) of Horsham in Sussex,. There are several examples of nineteenth century broadside printings to be found at Ballads Online and the Full English but apart from Henry Burstow’s version (one of quite a number of Napoleonic songs in his repertoire) the song was only found twice by the early English collectors in oral tradition – once by Baring-Gould in Devon, and by Vaughan Williams, again, in Norfolk. In more recent times, versions have been recorded in Ireland from Elizabeth Cronin of Cork in the 1950s, and from Tom Costello of Connemara in 1972 (the latter can be heard on Volume 8 of The Voice of the People). Gordon Hall (who of course had a strong connection with, and interest in, Henry Burstow) sang the song on the Veteran CD When The May Is All In Bloom. In the sleevenotes to that CD John Howson notes

As the broadside versions mention Napoleon Bonaparte’s death, this ballad must date from sometime after 1821. Both Harkness of Preston and Such of London published the song in about 1840 but it was probably based on an earlier broadside ballad called The Grand Conversation under the Rose. Perhaps due to the popularity of the Napoleon ballad, they both, some time later published The Grand Conversation on Nelson.

The Grand Conversation on Napoleon Arose - broadside from Ralph Vaughan Williams Manuscript Collection, via the Full English.

The Grand Conversation on Napoleon Arose – broadside from Ralph Vaughan Williams Manuscript Collection, via the Full English.

There’s an interesting article on this, and other pro-Napoleon ballads, on the Musical Traditions site –The Grand Conversation: Napoleon and British Popular Balladry, by the always-readable Vic Gammon.

 

 

Well there we are then: two hundred consecutive weeks of songs on this blog. When I started I guessed that I knew about 150 songs. A little while ago I revised my estimate up to 200, and now I’m thinking the total might be nearer 250. In fact the number keeps increasing: next week’s song (yet more Napoleon) is a song I’ve only learned in the last few weeks. To those of you who have followed this blog over the years, and made supportive or constructive comments, many many thanks – it has meant a lot to me.

The Grand Conversation on Napoleon