Posts tagged ‘War’

July 1, 2016

Week 254 – By the Hush

In the summer of my first year at Oxford I did some harmony singing with Caroline Jackson-Houlston and Tony Snell. I don’t think we ever got to perform in public, but we had a few rehearsals at Tony’s house on the Woodstock Road. I’m sure there must have been other songs we were looking at, the only ones I can recall were all sourced from an LP of Canadian folk songs which I think had recently come Caroline’s way: The Barley Grain For Me by Margaret Christl And Ian Robb With Grit Laskin. We had a go at the John Barleycorn-esque title track and ‘O no, not I’ – which I must get round to re-learning- and possibly ‘Hard Times’. I don’t think we ever tackled this one, but I learned it from the LP and, at the time, it seemed like a pretty obscure song. Then, within a couple of years, it seemed like you couldn’t go to a folk club or session without someone singing it, usually with a bodhran accompaniment. I’ve no idea who popularised it (it certainly wasn’t me!), but it seemed to get very popular very quickly. 

Like a lot of the songs on The Barley Grain For Me, ‘By the hush’ was included in The Penguin Book of Canadian Folk Songs, edited by Edith Fowke. And a selection of songs from that book were included on a Leader LP (grey gatefold sleeve, like Unto Brigg Fair and A People’s Carol) called Far Canadian Fields, Which I knew of, but had never seen, until a few months back when I was very pleased to find a copy in the Oxfam Music shop in Reading.

All of the songs on that LP were collected by Edith Fowke, four of them from Mr O.J. Abbott (source also of ‘The Plains of Waterloo’) about whom the collector writes:

O.J. Abbott was an exceptionally fine traditional singer with an extensive and unusual repertoire. Born in England in 1872, he came to Canada as a young boy. He learned his many songs from Irish families living on farms in the Ottawa valley and from men in the lumbercamps. I met him first when he was eighty-five, and in the closing years of his life he appeared at the Newport and Mariposa folk festivals and at the International Folk Music Council’s meeting in Quebec in 1961.

This song – recorded in 1957 – Mr Abbott learned from a Mrs O’Malley, “the wife of an Ottawa valley farmer, for whom he worked back in the 1880s”.

The Bodleian has a broadside ballad called ‘Pat in America’ with almost identical words. Except it doesn’t start “It’s by the hush, my boys” but “Arragh, bidenahust my boys”. That, it seems, is a corruption of the Gaelic phrase Bí i do thost, meaning be quiet. So “by the hush”, whilst not a phase I’ve ever encountered in any other context, seems a reasonable English translation.

For the historical background to the song, see the Traditional Ballad Index – there’s a lot more information than I’ve quoted below

There is much historical truth in this song. There were indeed new Irish immigrants in the northern armies in the Civil War: “According to one account, some of the 88th’s recruits [soldiers in the 88 NY Regiment, one of the regiments of the Irish Brigade] enlisted shortly after they had exited the immigrant landing point at Castle Garden, and spoke no English, only the Irish Gaelic of the landless Catholic tenant farmer” (Bilby, p. 27). And the unit they joined, the Irish Brigade of Thomas Francis Meagher (pronounced “Marr”), had a horrendous loss rate even by Civil War standards.

In the first two years of the war, the brigade — originally 63 NY, 69 NY, 88 NY; 28 Mass, another Irish unit, added before Fredericksburg (Bilby, p. 63) and the not-so-Irish 116 PA added in October 1862 (Bilby, p. 61) — had the highest casualty rate of any comparable unit in the Army of the Potomac. According to Bilby, p. ix, “In its four year history, the brigade lost over 4,000 men, more than were ever in it at any one time, killed and wounded. [p. 239 calculates that, in all, 7715 men served in the brigade.] The Irish Brigade’s loss of 961 soldiers killed or mortally wounded in action was exceeded by only two other brigades in the Union army.”

The unit suffered in many battles. In the Seven Days’ Battles, for instance, the 69 NY alone had 155 casualties (Bilby, p. 45), although other regiments of the brigade suffered less. At the end of the Peninsular Campaign, the 69th had only 295 men with the colors (Bilby, p. 49) — meaning that it had already suffered 60% casualties. Meagher did manage to drum up a few recruits that summer, but not enough to offset the brigade’s losses (Bilby, p. 50).

At the Battle of Antietam, the first division of the Second Corps, which contained the Irish Brigade, suffered 212 killed, 900 wounded, and 24 missing (Murfin, p. 375); the Irish Brigade alone is said to have lost 506 of 2944 men (Beller, p, 74). At the start that battle, the four regiments of the brigade were commanded by one colonel and three lieutenant colonels; at the end, they were commanded by two lieutenant colonels, one major, and one captain (Murfin, p. 347). Sears-Antietam, p. 243, says that the 63rd and 69th New York both suffered casualties on the order of 60%. Craughwell, p. 98, says that one company had every man killed or wounded, and on p. 105 says that the thousand-man-strong brigade suffered 540 casualties. Since the brigade started with roughly 3000 men, it had lost two-thirds of them prior to Antietam, and by the end of that battle, five out of six were killed, wounded, captured, victims of disease, or had deserted.

Pat in America: broadside printed by Taylor, Brick Lane, Spitalfields, London between 1859 and 1899. From the Bodleian collection.

Pat in America: broadside printed by Taylor, Brick Lane, Spitalfields, London between 1859 and 1899. From the Bodleian collection.

By the Hush

November 15, 2015

Week 221 – The Recruited Collier

Surely one of the gems of the post-war British folk revival. It brilliantly captures the desolation and despair of the young woman whose lover has enlisted and is off, to meet who knows what fate, to war.  And I love some of the phrases the song uses: “he ran for the golden guinea” and, my favourite, “a brigadier, or a grenadier, he says they’re sure to make him”, which neatly conveys the fact that the young recruit really has no idea what he’s signed up for.

I think I first heard this sung by Caroline Jackson-Houlston at one or other of the Oxford folk clubs in the early 1980s. Although it must also have been around the same time that I heard it on Dick Gaughan’s 1978 album Gaughan, and I think I probably wrote the words down from that LP. At the time I assumed it was an anonymous product of “the folk tradition”, from the Durham or Northumberland coalfields (indeed Gaughan’s liner notes say “This is actually from the NE of England”). It was only comparatively recently that I discovered that, like a number of folk club standards introduced to the revival by A.L.Lloyd (check out Reynardine and The Weaver and the Factory Maid for other examples), the song as presently sung probably owes as much to Bert Lloyd as it does to the tradition.

Lloyd printed the song in his 1952 collection Come All Ye Bold Miners. About which Roy Palmer wrote this:

It is clear that Lloyd’s editorial approach was not merely to reproduce the material sent to him. Sometimes the changes made were small… but others were far-reaching. On ‘Jimmy’s Enlisted (or the Recruited Collier)’ Lloyd laconically notes: ‘Text from J.H. Huxtable, of Workington. A version of this ballad appears in R. Anderson’s Ballads in the Cumberland Dialect (1808).’ In fact, the original is entitled simply ‘Jenny’s Complaint’, and features not a miner who enlists but a ploughman.

Roy Palmer, A. L. Lloyd and Industrial Song, in Ian Russell, ed., Singer, Song and Scholar, Sheffield Academic Press, 1986, pp.135-7 (quoted by Malcolm Douglas on this Mudcat thread).

Jenny's Complaint, from Robert Anderson's Ballads in the Cumberland Dialect (1808), from the Internet Archive.

Jenny's Complaint, from Robert Anderson's Ballads in the Cumberland Dialect (1808), from the Internet Archive.

Jenny’s Complaint, from Robert Anderson’s Ballads in the Cumberland Dialect (1808), from the Internet Archive.

Robert Anderson’s Ballads in the Cumberland dialect can be seen at the Internet Archive. Anderson (1770-1833) was a working class poet from Carlisle, a number of whose compositions (like those of Burns in Scotland) were taken up by “the folk”, and are known to have been sung into the twentieth century. Exactly what Mr Huxtable sang, and to what tune (Lloyd fitted his words to a new tune, possibly of his own devising) we shall probably never know. I’ve just finished reading Dave Arthur’s biography Bert, and it’s clear that, brilliant man though he was in so many ways, Lloyd was actually a bit of a fantasist. He put about, or at least acquiesced in accepting, various completely erroneous stories about his family background, and his own early life; and he was, for personal or political reasons, frequently less than transparent about the sources of the songs he published and popularised, and about the extent to which he had reworked some of those songs.

Now a lot of people won’t give a monkey’s about this, but the historian in me thinks it is important to try to disentangle the truth. Besides, if we lazily portray these songs as wholly “traditional”, we can have no complaint when lazy journalists and lazy editors present those same songs as evidence of what “the ordinary people” were thinking at a given point in history. Whereas they possibly tell us rather more about what British communists were thinking in the 1950s…

Of course, none of this in any way diminishes the beauty or power of the song. In fact, it just goes to show how good Bert Lloyd was at taking an old song, and turning it into something more singable, more resonant for a modern audience. All things being well, there’ll be another example along next week.

The Recruited Collier

November 8, 2015

Week 220 – The Man He Killed

This is not the song I had intended to post this week. Indeed, I had never heard it before last Saturday night. But it formed part of Billy Bragg’s set at the EFDSS 80th Birthday Bash for Shirley Collins, and it struck me as exactly right for Remembrance Sunday.

So I got the words from the Poetry Foundation website and, although I won’t claim that I’ve quite learned them by heart yet, I think this may well be a song which finds a permanent place in my repertoire.

‘The Man He Killed’ was written by Thomas Hardy in 1902, at the time of the Boer War, and first published in his 1909 collection Time’s Laughingstocks and Other Verses. Billy Bragg set the words to the tune of the traditional song, ‘The Snows they melt the soonest’, and performed it at various events – including on the Left Field Stage at Glastonbury – in 2014, commemorating the one hundredth anniversary of the start of the First World War.

A British soldier giving a wounded German prisoner some water to drink, near La Boisselle, during the Battle of the Somme, 3 July 1916. Photographed by the Daily Mirror’s photographer Ernest Brooks.

A British soldier giving a wounded German prisoner some water to drink, near La Boisselle, during the Battle of the Somme, 3 July 1916. Photographed by the Daily Mirror’s photographer Ernest Brooks.

 

A wounded German soldier lighting a cigarette for a wounded British soldier at a British field hospital during the Battle of Épehy, near the end of the First World War (1918). Photo: Lt. Thomas K. Aitken, British Army photographer/Imperial War Museums.

A wounded German soldier lighting a cigarette for a wounded British soldier at a British field hospital during the Battle of Épehy, near the end of the First World War (1918). Photo: Lt. Thomas K. Aitken, British Army photographer/Imperial War Museums.

British soldiers helping wounded German prisoners on the Western Front.

British soldiers helping wounded German prisoners on the Western Front.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

German soldiers dressing a wounded British soldier's wounds

German soldiers dressing a wounded British soldier’s wounds

 

The fraternising of troops in Belgium on Christmas Day 1914. Group of German soldiers with two Englishmen, one in great coat and one in rear wearing balaclava cap. Photo by R W Turner, from the Imperial War Museum.

“The fraternising of troops in Belgium on Christmas Day 1914. Group of German soldiers with two Englishmen” – can you tell which of these men is fighting in which army? Photo by R W Turner, from the Imperial War Museum.

 

The Man He Killed

August 20, 2015

Week 209 – Bonnie Woodhall

And so, ladies and gentlemen, we boldly go into the fifth year of this blog’s existence. And it’s my birthday soon. So to celebrate, here’s something recorded earlier in the year, with a typically sensitive guitar accompaniment from my old friend Nick Passmore (for more on Nick, see Week 188).

Andy and Nick at a recent Oyster Ceilidh Band  dance in Canterbury.

Andy and Nick at a recent Oyster Ceilidh Band dance in Canterbury.

I used to sing this back in the 1980s with Chris Wood. Chris, Nick and I all knew the song from the classic post-Planxty Andy Irvine & Paul Brady LP – although, being averse to transcribing lyrics from records if I can possibly help it, I’d got the words from Roy Palmer’s book The Rambling Soldier. The album sleevenotes say that Andy Irvine first heard the song sung by Dick Gaughan, but set the words (probably from Sam Henry’s Songs of the People, although that’s not explicitly stated) to his own tune.

Woodhall is apparently on the banks of North Calder Water in North Lanarkshire.

Bonnie Woodhall

Andy Turner – vocal
Nick Passmore – guitar

June 13, 2015

Week 199 – Lovely Elwina

We are fast approaching the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo. The final defeat of Napoleon was a defining moment in European history, bringing to an end, as it did, two decades of conflict. And although, as a recent Guardian article pointed out, the majority of the allied forces commanded by Wellington on the 18th June were actually German or from the Low Countries, we’ve always regarded it, of course, as a great British victory. At the time, news of the victory was welcomed in Britain with the ringing of church bells and much rejoicing. In view of which, and their usual keenness to make a few pounds out of any event of local or national significance, it is rather surprising that the broadside press did not issue a great many more ballads and broadsheets celebrating the victory (I am indebted to Pete Wood for pointing this out, first at the 2015 Traditional Song Forum / EFDSS Broadside Day, and now in an article on the ballads of Waterloo in the current issue of English Dance & Song). But having said that, there were quite a few songs where the battle provided either the subject, or the backdrop, and which entered the tradition.

‘Lovely Elwina’ was collected by Vaughan Williams, some 89 years after the battle, from Mr Leary, a native of Hampshire, but then living in Almshouses in Salisbury. Vaughan Williams recorded it as either ‘The Battle of Waterloo’ or ‘Leaving Waterloo’ (I think – I really struggle with his handwriting). I learned the song from Roy Palmer’s book Folk Songs collected by Ralph Vaughan Williams, where it is given as ‘Elwina of Waterloo’ – this is the title given to the song in its frequent appearances on broadsides. Roy writes that Mr Leary’s version seems to be unique but in fact now, with the benefit of a further thirty years’ research, not to mention the internet, we can point to one other collected version, from Joseph Alcock of Sibford Gower in Oxfordshire.

The beginning of the song is set in Brussels, on the eve of battle. I always picture a scene from Vanity Fair, although I’m ashamed to say my images come from an old BBC television adaptation, rather than from the book itself, which I’ve never read.  The opening lines of broadside versions run

The Trumpet had sounded the signal for battle,
To the fair ones of Brussels we all bade adieu

But Mr Leary had changed Brussels to Bristol, and I’ve always followed his example.

The ferocious battle itself (total casualties and losses 55 000 according to Wikipedia) features only in the background: our hero is wounded, but it’s not, it would seem, anything too serious, and the song focuses on the young lady he meets, and who by the end of the song is set to become his bride.

I used to sing this song with Chris Wood in the 1980s, and it’s now set to become part of the Magpie Lane repertoire – although typically for Magpie Lane, not in time for the Waterloo bicentennial!

 

Elwina of Waterloo - ballad sheet from the Bodleian collection. Printed and Sold by J. Pitts, 14, Great St. Andrew Street, 7 Dials.

Elwina of Waterloo – ballad sheet from the Bodleian collection. Printed and Sold by J. Pitts, 14, Great St. Andrew Street, 7 Dials.

 

 

The Battle of Waterloo was not only celebrated in song – a number of dance tunes have “Waterloo” in the title. In this arrangement I celebrate the impending nuptials by concluding with a tune from the Welch Family of Bosham (MS dated 1800, but clearly added to in the following years), which I learned from A Sussex Tune Book.

Lovely Elwina / Waterloo

Andy Turner – vocal, C/G anglo-concertina

June 6, 2015

Week 198 – Warlike Seamen

A song of naval derring-do from the Copper Family. My friend Mike and I used to sing this many many years ago. We learned it from the paperback of A Song For Every Season but I think we may also have heard Bob and Ron singing it on Sailormen and Servingmaids (Volume 6 in the Topic/Caedmon series, The Folk Songs of Britain)

Looking at the various versions of the song in the Full English archive it seems that the gist of the story stays fairly constant, but there’s tremendous variation in the details: the ship may start from Liverpool Straits, Spithead or Plymouth Sound; and while the Coppers have the action set on 8th June, other versions have the date as 4th April, 15th September, 4th November, 18th November etc. etc.

A.L. Lloyd provides this background on the song:

The song began its life in the seventeenth century and concerned the little merchant ship Marigold, 70 tons, owned by a Mr Ellis of Bristol, which fought a brisk and successful skirmish with “Turkish” pirates off the coast of Algiers. At the end of the eighteenth century the song was re-jigged to suit the times, and now it dealt with an encounter with the French, fought by a ship variously called the Nottingham and the London (the London was one of the ships involved in the Spithead mutiny, and it poked its bowsprit into several songs of the time, through being in the news). For some reason the ballad has been particularly well liked in East Anglia (Harry Cox has a version called Liverpool Play; Sam Larner called his set The Dolphin).

Notes to the Topic anthology Round Cape Horn: Traditional Songs of Sailors, Ships and the Sea, quoted at https://mainlynorfolk.info/peter.bellamy/songs/warlikeseamen.html

 

'The Irish Captain' as notated by Francis Collinson.

‘The Irish Captain’ as notated by Francis Collinson.

 

If you look at the Full English archive you’ll also find a couple of versions of a related song called ‘Lord Exmouth’ (including one, tune only, collected at Wittersham in Kent). The Lord Exmouth in question is this chap who led an Anglo-Dutch fleet against the Barbary states in 1816, and whose successful bombardment of Algiers secured the release of 1200 Christian slaves. There’s an article by Roly Brown on that battle, and the resulting ballad, on the Musical Traditions site.

It would seem that ‘Lord Exmouth’ was not taken up – or at least not preserved – in the oral tradition to the same extent as the more generic tale of a naval skirmish. The only collected set of words starts off with the first verse and chorus of the ‘Lord Exmouth’ broadside shown below, but subsequent verses are very much in the ‘Warlike Seamen’ mould.

The battle of Algiers - ballad sheet printed by J. Catnach, Seven Dials, between 1813 and 1838; from Broadside Ballads Online. The battle of Algiers – ballad sheet printed by J. Catnach, Seven Dials, between 1813 and 1838; from Broadside Ballads Online.

 

Warlike Seamen

Andy Turner – vocal, G/D anglo-concertina

April 19, 2015

Week 191 – I wish that the wars were all over

I learned this song in the early 1980s from Caroline Jackson-Houlston, with whom I used to sing it. The song was collected by the Reverend Sabine Baring-Gould, from Sam Fone, a Dartmoor miner from Mary Tavy, Devon, in 1893. I always had it in my mind that Caroline had got the song from The English Folksinger by Sam Richards and Trish Stubbs, but actually the words we sang are not those given in the book, so I think perhaps Caroline had at least some of the verses from Baring-Gould’s Garland of Country Song (1895), where the opening line is “In the meadow one morning when pearly with dew”. Fone, on the other hand, appears to have sung “It was down in the meadows where violets are blue / I saw pretty Polly a-milking her cow”.

'I would that the wars' as sung by Sam Fone to Sabine Baring-Gould; from the EFDSS Full English archive,

‘I would that the wars’ as sung by Sam Fone to Sabine Baring-Gould; from the EFDSS Full English archive.

 

The notes in that book say “It is not untypical of a certain class of song from the time of the American Wars of Independence”. Which could perhaps be read as “we think it sounds like a song from that period but have no evidence to back this theory up”. However a contribution by Mick Pearce to this Mudcat thread points out that the song can be found in A Sailor’s songbag : an American rebel in an English prison, 1777-1779 so clearly the song was in circulation at that time (the book, edited by George Carey, presents songs from a MS assembled by an American prisoner of war – possibly named Timothy Connor – held by the British in Forton Prison). Roy Palmer, in his book The Rambling Soldier, comments that

The reference to Flanders may indicate the Seven Years’ War or the campaign of 1793. John Wardroper reports that the legend, ‘Oh, I wish that the wars were all over’, appeared on popular prints in England in the early 1780s, during the American War, showing a ragged family amid a scene of ruin (Kings, Lords and Wicked Libellers, John Murray, 1973, p.85).

Given the evidence of the song being sung in the 1770s, the Flanders Campaign of 1793 is too late, so the Seven Years’ War (1756–63) seems like a better bet.

'I wish the wars were all over. A favourite song' . Printed and sold by J Davenport, No. 6, Little Catherine- street, Strand, London, between 1799 and 1800. From Broadside Ballads Online. ‘I wish the wars were all over. A favourite song’ . Printed and sold by J Davenport, No. 6, Little Catherine- street, Strand, London, between 1799 and 1800. From Broadside Ballads Online.

Actually, like the slightly later ‘The Banks of the Nile’, the sentiments expressed in the song are timeless. Unfortunately, the intervening 200-odd years give no cause for optimism in wishing that the wars will ever be over.

I wish that the wars were all over

November 9, 2013

Week 116 – Between the Wars

Billy Bragg 'Between the wars' EP sleeve, from Wikipedia.

Billy Bragg ‘Between the wars’ EP sleeve, from Wikipedia.

By my reckoning, the first time I sang this song in public must have been just over 29 years ago.

I can’t swear that I heard Billy Bragg’s first, mushroom biryani-inspired airplay on the John Peel show. But I’d heard his early Peel sessions, and admired both his songs and his attitude (although back then, the suggestion that he might one day appear on the bill at folk festivals, still  less on the panel of Question Time, would have seemed quite preposterous). I first saw him, with my friend Adrian, in October 1984, in a sports hall at the University of Kent at Canterbury. This was part of the famous “Hank, Frank and Billy” tour, with Frank Chickens and the Hank Wangford Band.

I knew the songs from Life’s a Riot and, although it had only just come out, I was also familiar with quite a lot of the songs on Brewing Up from the Peel show. Of the new songs, the one which really made an impression was Between the Wars. A week or so later Billy was In Concert on Radio 1, and I had a cassette ready. That was early Saturday evening. The following lunchtime, at a small session at the Shipwright’s at Hollow Shore, I sang this for the first time.

Thereafter, I sang it wherever I went. The Oysterband certainly had it from me, and I think I was the first person Martin Carthy heard singing the song. That was in one of those lovely semi-formal singing sessions you used to get at the National Folk Festival at Sutton Bonington, in March or April 1985. By that time, of course, the Between the Wars EP had been released, and Billy was climbing up the singles chart (here he is singing the song on Top of the Pops). Naturally I included the song on my 1990 album Love Death and the Cossack.

This is a new recording from a couple of weeks ago. I have to confess that I could reach those top Gs with rather greater facility back in 1990 – judge for yourself at andyturner.bandcamp.com/track/between-the-wars – but frankly, I’m amazed I can still get them at all. And I still get a real buzz out of singing the song. Although born out of the conflict of the Thatcher years, specifically the bitter, year-long Miners’ strike, the sentiments of the song do not go out of date.

There has been no shortage of “skies all dark with bombers” over the last thirty years. And how about

For theirs is a land with a wall around it
And mine is a faith in my fellow man

does that resonate with anyone today?

And while Russell Brand talks of revolution, I prefer Billy’s plea

Sweet moderation, heart of this nation
Desert us not…

Between the Wars

Andy Turner – vocal, 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

November 18, 2012

Week 65 – My Son John

This is the song I had meant to post last week, but when I came to upload it I found I had forgotten to press the Record button. Glad to say that this week I seem to  have overcome my technical deficiencies.

I learned the song over 30 years ago from Fred Hamer’s book Garner’s Gay. It’s one of several pieces which Hamer recorded from Bedfordshire singer David Parrott. Of the song, Hamer wrote

David’s brother produced evidence to show that this song was sung by an ancestor of the Parrott family who had served at Waterloo. Apparently he was in the habit of singing the song as reunions of veteran soldiers at the Corn Exchange in Bedford, and he invites us to imagine that this is the conversation that takes place when a father takes his son, wounded at Trafalgar, before a naval surgeon, who tries to swindle him out of his disablement pension by claiming it was his own fault.

Of the singer

In 1924 the Bedfordshire Times published a series of articles examining the repertoire of songs sung by the pseudonymous author’s mother. It took me two years of diligent search to find the author’s name, and by the time I found them both he and his mother had died. However his brother, David, was still alive and he could remember the tunes of most of the songs.

My Son John