Posts tagged ‘women getting the better of men’

March 3, 2013

Week 80 – The Farmer in Leicester

A song which seems to have been widespread in the English tradition, under a variety of titles. The farmer can hail from Leicester, Chester, Cheshire, Yorkshire, Sheffield, Devonshire… although why the song is named after the farmer at all is a mystery, when it’s daughter who does all the work.

Betsy Renals, from the Veteran website; photo courtesy of Vic Legg.

Betsy Renals, from the Veteran website; photo courtesy of Vic Legg.

I learned this version from a recording of Vic Legg’s auntie, Betsy Renals, made by Pete Coe in 1978. Pete’s recordings of Betsy and her two sisters – all good singers – are  available on Catch me if you can on the Veteran label. I have the original cassette album, but actually there’s now an expanded CD release. The Veteran website has a good summary which I shan’t try to improve on:

Betsy Renals, Charlotte Renals and Sophie Legg were born into one of the best-known West Country travelling families, the Orchards. They were 78, 77 and 60 years old respectively in 1978 when these recordings were made.

Their early life was spent travelling the lanes of North Cornwall hawking haberdashery from their horse drawn wagon Their songs were passed down through their family or learnt at way-side meetings with other travelling families around the camp fire, which could also be the occasion for a step dance often just to mouth music, called ‘tuning’.

This fine collection includes well known folk songs, sentimental and comic songs as well as some rarely recorded narrative ballads.

I’ve not heard the CD, but three quarters of the tracks were on the original cassette, and both the songs and the singing are a treat.

Mike Yates’ notes say that this song dates back to the eighteenth century; and also include this interesting comment:

According to the folklorist Sam Richards, Betsy’s song was used by Gypsy singers to establish boundaries when they came into contact with non-Gypsies; the Travellers feeling that, like the heroine of the song, they too were equal to any potential threat that might develop.

This is one of very few traditional songs where I’ve felt the need to compose an extra verse. Somehow “She’s counted the money twice over / There were three thousand pounds if not more” didn’t seem a satisfactory ending, so I’ve added another, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, verse at the end.

The Farmer in Leicester

August 19, 2012

Week 52 – The Crockery Ware

Here is my 52nd weekly post – completing the first year of the blog =coinciding with the week in which I reach the grand old age of 52. It’s almost as if I’d planned it all (I didn’t).

I learned this song from Roy Palmer’s Everyman’s Book of English Country Songs. It was recorded in 1976 by Mike Yates, from Fred Cottenham, at Chiddingstone in Kent. Mike mistakenly gave the singer’s name as “Fred Cottingham”, and this was repeated both in Roy’s book, and when the recording was included on the Veteran Tapes cassette The Horkey Load Volume 1. However Fred’s surname was definitely Cottenham: you can read about his life, and his singing father “Needle” Cottenham, in an article by George Frampton for Musical Traditions – Fred Cottenham: The ‘Crockery Ware’ Man.

The “crockery ware” referred to in this song, incidentally, is the chamber pot, aka the gazunder.

The Crockery Ware - ballad from the Bodleian collection

The Crockery Ware – ballad from the Bodleian collection

The Crockery Ware

May 20, 2012

Week 39 – Stroll Away the Morning Dew

It must have been 1976 or 77 when I discovered a remarkable thing: folk dancing can be fun. It happened like this…

Before I was born, my parents used to go out dancing a lot: ballroom, old time, barn dances, square dances. Then in my teens, when I was old enough not to need a babysitter any more, they started dancing again, mainly at dinner dances organised by the school PTA. When my Mum tried  to teach me to waltz, or do the foxtrot, I was completely uninterested. And although a bunch of my schoolfriends went to a PTA barn dance – and had fun, to be fair – I don’t think any of us considered it might be something we’d want to do on a regular basis. Similarly, when I discovered folk music at the end of 1975, I enjoyed the jigs and reels played by bands like Steeleye and the Chieftains, but thought of them only as music to listen to, not as music you might dance to.  But when my Mum and Dad were invited to a barn dance in the village hall at Warehorne, a few miles from where we lived, at the last minute I tagged along. And it was a revelation.

What really made the difference was the band – the Oyster Ceilidh Band, whose music was not only extremely energetic and danceable, but also very listenable. I was hooked, and (along with quite a number of my teenage friends) became a regular at the dances organised by Ron and Jean Saunders at Warehorne. It was a tiny village hall, and the six or seven-piece band would crowd onto a stage created by placing boards on top of the snooker table (some years later I discovered that this had also been the practice in the 1930s, when Charlie Bridger – of whom more another week – used to play for village hops in the same hall).

At my 18th birthday party John Jones, Chris Taylor and Cathy Lesurf from the Oyster Ceilidh Band came along to play and call a few dances. And as a birthday present Cathy gave me a copy of Maud Karpeles’ The Crystal Spring Volume 2. This is a collection of songs collected by Cecil Sharp, and over the years I’ve found it to be a really good source of songs. But I was particularly excited to find that one of the songs had been collected in  Warehorne.

This was a song which, in The Crystal Spring, is given the title of ‘The Baffled Knight’, and which Sharp collected in Warehorne on 23 September 1908 from James Beale. Even at 18 I realised, I think, that ‘The Baffled Knight’ was a ballad scholar’s title, not what a traditional singer would have used (it doesn’t even mention a knight in Mr Beale’s song – it’s a shepherd’s son who is “baffled”). A few years later, when I looked at the copy of Sharp’s manuscripts in the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library, I found that in fact Mr Beale had also sung “Stroll away the morning dew”, rather than the more usual “Blow away the morning dew”. So that’s what I’ve sung ever since, and that’s how I refer to the song.

James Beale’s last verse was

So if you meet any pretty girl
And your father in the town
O never mind her squalling
Or the rumpling of her gown

But I prefer to stick with the “if you will not when you can / you shall not when you would” verse given by Maud Karpeles.

You can find out more about the ballad and its history at

Stroll Away the Morning Dew

March 4, 2012

Week 28 – The Outlandish Knight

When, in my late teens, I became fascinated with traditional song, I looked in my local public library to see what songbooks they had on the shelves. As I recall there were just three: a volume of songs collected by Sharp, Seeger and MacColl’s Singing Island, and Garners Gay by Fred Hamer (to be fair, they added Peter Kennedy’s monumental Folk Songs of Britain and Ireland a little while later). Of these three, Garners Gay  was, and has remained, my favourite. It contains some lovely songs, and I liked the way that Fred Hamer’s notes talk as much about the singers as the songs.

This is one of the songs I learned from the book. It was collected from May Bradley, a gypsy singer settled in Ludlow. It was several years later that I actually got to hear a recording of Mrs Bradley’s singing: in 1988 the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library released the cassette The Leaves of Life featuring previously unheard Fred Hamer recordings; and around the same time I came across the old EFDSS LP Garners Gay, which included May Bradley singing this song. On listening to these recordings it was immediately apparent that May Bradley was a very fine singer indeed, so I was delighted when, a couple of years ago, Rod Stradling’s Musical Traditions label put out Sweet Swansea, a whole CD of her songs. If you want to know just how good I thought this CD was, you can read my review; or you can just go straight ahead and buy it – if you’re a fan of traditional singing you really won’t regret it.

Incidentally, I’ve always called this ‘The Outlandish Knight’ because that’s what it’s called in Garners Gay. But May Bradley called it ‘The Dappledy Grey’, and actually she makes no mention of an outlandish knight – her version starts “Now it’s of a Turkey he came from the north land”. Fred Jordan, who was born in Ludlow and knew May Bradley well, had a very similar version of the song, which he called ‘Six Pretty Maids’. He had learned his version from members of another local gypsy family, the Lockes.

The Outlandish Knight